Photographer Handcuffed by LAPD Just For Taking Pictures? (VIDEO) | The Informer | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Above the Law

Photographer Handcuffed by LAPD Just For Taking Pictures? (VIDEO)

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Wed, Aug 7, 2013 at 1:18 PM

click to enlarge REASONTV
  • ReasonTV
A photographer says he was wrongly detained by the LAPD for taking photos of officers in action.

The shooter, Shawn Nee, is the subject of a video about the June encounter that was just released by the libertarian publication Reason. Most of the interaction between Nee and cops was edited out or simply not included in the name of brevity:

However, Nee told us all the footage he has will be released eventually. Nee is a documentary photographer who has shot for many legit publications.

He had four cameras on him that day, including multiple "body cameras" shooting video throughout the entire confrontation, he said.

The June 2 encounter happened as Nee was shooting a homeless man who has been the subject of his photography for more than five years, he said.

Officers responded to a domestic dispute at an apartment building that is not only across the street but behind a fence and about 90 feet from the sidewalk, Nee told us.

He went to that sidewalk and stayed there as he started taking pictures of the officers and subjects involved: A woman involved in the dispute is someone he talked to about photographing, so the situation piqued his interest, Nee told us.

He said that after cops were done dealing with the domestic situation one two walked over to ask his name. Nee refused to give it, and that's when things devolved.

Ultimately police detained him, as one cop says on video, "for interviewing ... interfering with a police investigation."

Nee alleges police lied about their story when a supervisor showed up.

He says he was held for more than four hours. Nee notes that the time stamp on one of his cameras shows him being put in the back of a car at 3:08 p.m. [Corrected: The time stamp on one camera was off. It was more like 6:08 p.m., meaning he was detained for about 90 minutes, Nee says]. He was questioned by a detective and then left in a room for at least a half hour before being cut loose about 7:30 p.m., Nee told us.

Punishment for taking pictures?

LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman says this wasn't a case of a photog being singled out:

Anybody can be detained if they interfere with a police investigation. Even law enforcement officers have been arrested.

We asked if standing so far from officers and taking photos could be considered interfering. Neiman said it's "subjective," depending on the situation and the cops on the scene.

Were the cops involved being investigated? Neiman said, so far, no: The LAPD has not received a formal complaint.

If they bring misconduct to our attention we'll investigate it. What we saw there didn't appear to be any misconduct.

Is being uncooperative with police, specifically refusing to give your name to a cop, as Nee did, grounds for detention? Not always, Neiman said: You'd have to be a suspect or be under reasonable suspicion of a crime or violation first.

"I can't go up to every person on the street and ask their name," Neiman told us. "There has to be reasonable suspicion."

He said too much footage was omitted to determine what, exactly transpired. In fact, Neiman says, there's a 45-minute gap between the first encounter with an officer and Nee's detention.

Nee says the reason he's withholding all his footage is because, in his experience and opinion, officers look at it before they construct their stories around it.

This time, he says, he'll file the complaint, wait for the officers to go on the record, then catch them in their alleged lies.

And yes, he does have experience with this. In 2009 he alleges he was unlawfully detained by sheriff's deputies for taking photos inside a Hollywood Metro station.

And he's also a party to an ACLU lawsuit against the sheriff's department for allegedly doing just that: Detaining photogs simply for snapping shots.

The sheriff's department and Long Beach police have focused "sensitive sites" post-9/11, and people taking photographs have come under suspicion.

See also: Photography is Not a Crime.

Nee says:

I just think society is changing and a lot of people have cameras and they (police) are not used to that. I'm hoping they understand people have a right to take pictures in public spaces.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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