The Joe Blow Report 2

Everything Is About Something Different

Police Safety and The Camera

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361px-PolicemanThe statement is made by Thadeus Greenson in his Sunday, May 31, 2009 Times-Standard newspaper article: “Photographer to stand trial in homeless case” that “When Officer Marsolan saw him cross the street and move closer to the officers, endangering them, Officer Dickson assisted in taking VonZabern into custody.” How is taking pictures of these police officers constitute the crime of “obstructing an officer”?  How does someone with a camera interfere with what the police are doing?

I did some research on photographing the police and found this telling bit of information on Flex Your Rights :: Protect Your Constitutional Rights During Police Encounters that explains our questions:

16. Can I be arrested for videotaping or photographing police?

Videotaping or photographing police in public places is usually legal, so long as you don’t interfere with their activities. Nonetheless, doing so will often get you arrested.

Police don’t like to be watched or documented in any way, so they’ll sometimes bend the rules to stop you. We’ve heard many stories about people who got arrested for taping police, and the charges are usually dropped. If you’re taping or photographing police, make sure you don’t interfere, because “obstruction” is the most likely charge, and you’ll want to be able to defend against it.

Despite the risk of arrest, we don’t discourage the taping and photographing of police. Video evidence is uniquely effective in exposing police misconduct. If you acquire video or photographic evidence that warrants an official investigation, create and secure copies of the evidence, then forward it to local police monitoring groups such as civilian review boards, ACLU, and NAACP chapters. You should also obtain legal representation for yourself in case the police department retaliates against you.

The complete Times-Standard article:

Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard

More than two years after he was arrested at an Arcata homeless protest, Dominic Sylvester VonZabern is preparing to stand trial Monday.

In late April 2007, dozens of homeless people set up an encampment on the green space on near D and 11th streets in Arcata to protest what they deemed to be the “illegal policies” of the Arcata Police Department. Police, the protesters charged, had been waking the homeless up and giving them citations for sleeping in public spaces, despite the fact they had nowhere else to go.

Arcata police officers repeatedly asked the protesters to vacate the area, citing health and safety concerns, but a group of about 15 refused, interlocking their arms and gathering in a circle. As officers worked to pry the protesters apart and arrest them, a crowd of about 100 onlookers gathered across the street.

VonZabern was one of them, and reportedly tried several times to cross the street to take photographs of the protest, only to be told by officers to go back across the street.

”When Officer Marsolan saw him cross the street and move closer to the officers, endangering them, Officer Dickson assisted in taking VonZabern into custody,” stated an arrest report in VonZabern’s court file.

It wasn’t until more than one month later, on June 29, 2007, that VonZabern was charged with a single misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer.

Due to his transient status, VonZabern said he was unaware that charges had

been filed, or that he had a warrant out for his arrest until early 2009.Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Elan Firpo said the delay in the case was because VonZabern went missing and missed a handful of court dates, but VonZabern said he’s been in Humboldt County nearly the entire time and simply wasn’t made aware of the case or the court dates.

Firpo said that of the 18 arrests made during the protest, most were just cited and released. Only a few, including VonZabern, faced misdemeanor charges, he said.

The trial is estimated to last one week, according to Firpo. If convicted, VonZabern faces a sentence of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or



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