Photo Attorney

Apr 13, 2009

Photography Not Allowed - 28

Justin Grindal, a photographer in Texas, recently experienced what it's like to be hassled for taking photos in public. Justin has given permission to reproduce his story in his words and photographs here under the "Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic Creative Commons" License:

Today I was waiting on my wife to finish work before we could go to the rodeo. I had some time to kill, it was approximately 6pm (I know, we were running late) and I was near Transco (Williams Tower) so I thought I would take some photos with the waning light on the tower. I saw red and blues and thought I would go investigate, maybe practice some photojournalism style photography.

When I arrived on the scene 3 police cars had pulled over a blue Mustang and had arrested the driver and the car was being towed. I was on the sidewalk, out of the way of the action, snapping a few shots. See scene below:

After arresting the driver of a blue Mustang, Houston Police Officer Johnson questions his detainee in the back of the police car.

Houston Police Officers Johnson and Ruiz collect information on the driver of the blue Mustang.

Houston Police Officer Ruiz makes arrangements with tow truck to have the blue mustang impounded.

Then things got interesting. as I tried a few new angles, a third police officer (Officer Hudson) became agitated and told me I was not allowed to take photos. I noted to him that I was in a public place and was simply photographing the scene, that if I was in any way impeding his work, I would be glad to comply with his orders, but otherwise I would continue about my business. He insisted that I was disrupting his work by taking photos as he "doesn't want his picture taken." He noted that the scene was an active police investigation and that I would have to 1) stop taking photos and 2) delete the photos which I had taken. I politely refused, stating that I was in my full rights to take the photos, and that I intended to keep them, noting that there probably wouldn't be any good ones anyway.

Houston Police Officer Hudson attempting to disrupt my picture taking.

Upon noting my refusal, Officer Hudson reached for my camera, as if to take it out of my hands. I pulled back and again reiterated my point that I was in my rights to take the photos. He stated that I could either delete my photos or he would arrest me for obstruction of justice. Appalled, I informed Officer Hudson that arresting me and getting a warrant for the photos would be the only way to get me to delete them and that I wanted his full name and badge number. He refused to give it to me. He told me that he was in a "generous mood" and would give me a chance to walk away. Noting that the situation could not end well for me, I noted that I intended to file a complaint against him, and headed on about my way.

Photogs, please note that you have rights and don't let police bully you around. Obey the rules, but remember that PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT A CRIME!

Well done, Justin!