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ACLU Sues Sheriff's Department For Repeatedly Harassing Law-Abiding Photographers

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The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department harasses law-abiding photographers, threatening to put them on an FBI "hit list," accusing them of terrorist conspiracy and improperly searching them, according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. Photographers have been stopped and harassed for taking pictures on the sidewalk, on the Red Line and near oil refineries.

"Photography is not a crime. It's protected 1st Amendment expression," said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney for the ACLU told the Los Angeles Times. "It violates the Constitution's core protections for sheriff's deputies to detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they're pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong."

The suit is filed on behalf of three photographers who have been detained or ordered not to take pictures several times.

Greggory Moore, a reporter who works for the Long Beach Post, was frisked and interrogated while he was trying to take a picture of drivers for the paper's story on distracted driving. The deputies considered his behavior suspicious because he was across from the Long Beach Courthouse.

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Shane Quentin, a photographer with an MFA, was detained and searched while taking pictures of refineries in South Los Angeles in January. Deputies put him in the back of a cruiser for 45 minutes before releasing him. Two years earlier he had been ordered twice to stop taking photos of the refineries.

Another photographer who has had some run-ins with sheriff's deputies is Shawn Nee. Nee sometimes shoots for LAist and he is a photographer/free speech rights advocate who runs the site discarted. A deputy stopped and detained Nee while he was taking pictures at a Red Line station. His confrontation with deputies was caught on tape. The deputy told Nee that he was worried he could be taking photos for Al Qaeda, and at one point he threatened to put Nee's name on an FBI "hit list."

Here's a 10-minute video of the incident that we posted after it happened in 2009:

The same photographer had a run-in with the LAPD when he took a picture of a police officer but the LAPD launched an investigation into the incident within 24 hours to see whether the officer needed to be disciplined or retrained.

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Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker told the Los Angeles Times he had not had a chance to review the lawsuit, but he said it is a deputy's duty to ask questions.

"Should we really ignore suspicious activity?" Parker asked. "We have an obligation to the public to answer questions and we are going to ask people why are you taking that picture. It is our duty to protect the public."