LAPD Detains A Photographer For 'Interfering' With A Police Investigation… From 90 Feet Away

from the also-possession-of-camera-with-intent-to-distribute-recordings dept

Words like “interference” or “obstruction” seem to be thrown around quite frequently when law enforcement officers decide they’d rather not be filmed while on duty. How the passive act of filming can interfere with investigations or obstruct officials is left to the imagination. Fortunately (I guess…), law enforcement officials have very vivid imaginations. This allows them to arrest, detain, hassle or confiscate devices as needed, in order preserve the peace by chilling speech.

The latest definition of “interference” stretches the limits of credulity — to nearly 100 feet.

Shawn Nee is an award winning street and documentary photographer living in Hollywood, California. He says that on June 2, 2013, his right to take photos under the First Amendment was violated when the Los Angeles Police Department officers detained him while working in Hollywood.

Nee was standing on a residential sidewalk taking pictures of a man he had been photographing for years when LAPD officers showed up about 90 feet away to investigate a domestic dispute.

The whole incident, caught on “tape” thanks to the three body cameras Nee wears, shows officers covering a lot of ground to reach the “interfering” photographer. As is almost always the case, the officers’ first move is intimidation, with one demanding Nee identify himself and his employer.

When this fails, the officers demand he stop filming and put his camera down. Nee asks why he’s being detained.

OFFICER: For interviewing … interfering with a police investigation.

Hmm. Passively operating a camera from 90 feet away seems like the least efficient way to “interfere” with a police investigation. Maybe the sound of the shutter was distracting.

Nee was then taken to the station and detained while officers attempted to question him. Unfortunately for the interfered, Nee asserted his right to remain silent and refused to speak until his lawyer was present. After 90 minutes he was released — without being charged.

After being released, Nee spoke to a police supervisor who offered this “insight” on the interference claims.

NEE: My understanding is that I was detained for taking photos in a public space.

VIDAL: When it interferes with the job of police then it becomes a problem. At that point, you no longer have that freedom to go ahead and take your pictures.

Possibly. Possibly not. Vidal makes it seem cut-and-dried, but it really isn’t. This all depends on the laws governing the police department. California’s penal code gives law enforcement officers a lot of leeway when deciding what does or doesn’t “interfere” with an officer performing his duties, but it’s still hard to see how this fits a person standing 90 feet away taking pictures.

148. (a) (1) Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

In fact, it would seem that any “delay” was caused by the officers’ decision to hassle a photographer, rather than continue in their “discharge of duty.” Another way to look at this is that the officers felt that questioning and detaining Nee was actually the “duty” they were “discharging,” and his refusal to state his name “obstructed” or “delayed” them. Of course, that assumes the photography itself was a criminal activity, which it certainly wasn’t.

Either way, the line of reasoning being pushed by Vidal is suspect, if for no other reason than Vidal himself isn’t the most trustworthy of cops.

Sergent Vidal was named as a “problem officer” by the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (Christopher Commission) in the early 1990s, as reported by the Los Angeles Times in 1995. The Commission named 44 officers with “six or more complaints of excessive force or improper tactics between 1986 and 1990.”

More disappointing, this specious line of reasoning was upheld yet again by another member of the LAPD.

Reason TV showed the video to Andy Neiman, the officer-in-charge at the Media Relations Section at the LAPD. He said he could not comment on the video specifically but said of individuals taking pictures, “If their physical proximity to the investigating officers becomes interfering where an officer has to stop what they’re doing to admonish that individual that they’re too close or could you stand back because they are distracting from the officer’s business, then that’s where it becomes an issue.”

90 feet away can’t be remotely considered “physical proximity” unless we’re talking building locations. It’s pretty tough to sell the better part of 100 feet as being close enough to interfere with police business. Neiman probably knows better than to comment on a video showing officers confusing 90 feet of separation for “standing between the officer and the door,” as the LAPD is currently being sued by Nee and two other photographers for past abuses.

At some point, the perceived benefits of shutting down citizens with cameras are going to be outweighed by the millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements. Until then, it appears the LAPD is going to continue allowing officers to use the term “interference” to violate the public’s First Amendment rights.

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Comments on “LAPD Detains A Photographer For 'Interfering' With A Police Investigation… From 90 Feet Away”

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Ninja (profile) says:

How the passive act of filming can interfere with investigations or obstruct officials is left to the imagination.

Gosh Masnick, you reported on how cameras can be turned into lethal weapons yourself! And it is true, they can siphon one’ soul virtually killing them. Dead cops can’t perform their duties effectively!

With technological advances we’ll see the day when a smartphone with a camera will be turned into mass destruction weapons! We must ban those hell devices! Because Terrorism! And.. The CHILDREN!

That One Guy (profile) says:


The police forces around the country could either:

A) Give all officers media/PR training, so that they know how to react properly and maintain their composure when being filmed.

B) Stop hiring public servants who object so strongly to being filmed by the very public who’s taxes pay their wages. Given they are always trying to defend their desire for more surveillance with ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide’, their desire to never be filmed doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their innocence.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Alternatively...

This is one of the moments when strong unions are a bad thing.
Unions were needed once (might still be), but many of them seem to exist only to keep their membership on the job no matter what.
This incident is made worse because those charged with upholding the law again have no problem violating others rights. Nothing will come of this, because the unwritten rules about brotherhood trump the actual law.

Police have become gangs with military grade equipment, supported by people who want them to violate others rights but not their own. They fail to grasp the idea that if you let them ignore the rights of some, your rights will be next.

I might hate you for being a crack dealer, but your entitled to the same rights as everyone else.
I might hate you for molesting a child, and as much as it pains me, you have the same rights as everyone else until the law rules otherwise.

We seriously need to consider laws holding police, officials, etc to the letter of the law and handing out real punishments for breaking them. If they can’t follow the law, why should anyone else. Giving them yet another pass is what is making things worse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Alternatively...

IMHO the Zimmermen circus didn’t have squat to do with innocence or guilt. It was about the gov saying look, it used to take 25 to think you’re guilty enough to send you to prison(1 prosecutor, 12 grand jurors, and 12 petit jurors). Now we’ll do it with 7. The verdict was irrelevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Alternatively...

Zimmerman is in no position to complain about acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Live by the sword and all. But really it says more about how utterly psychopathic Florida’s self-defense laws are that they consider deescalating attempts wrong but shooting at the suspicion of danger right without the slightest sense of proportion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Alternatively...

Do you know how the police worked in the 60’s? I would say that policework has reached a point where it is becoming problematic to keep adding legal overview.

As for the snippet, Nee is being uncooperative (“I don’t need to answer that, sir.”), very suggestive (“are you arresting me, sir?”)and keeping 3 hidden cameras rolling? I would say he might be looking to stir trouble.

Now, An officer should be able to ignore this kind of nosy behaviour, but they are only human and their training likely didn’t involve this kind of provocative behaviour.

Therefore I would suggest better training in handling these situations and far clearer directions from the police about handling these kinds of cases. It is more likely a “code of conduct”-issue than a legal issue.

That the officer is not as good a guy as they come and the police media relations guy seems pretty clueless is a bigger problem than the episode itself…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Alternatively...

Nee is being uncooperative (“I don’t need to answer that, sir.”), very suggestive (“are you arresting me, sir?”)and keeping 3 hidden cameras rolling? I would say he might be looking to stir trouble.

Wait a second… asserting your rights and determining your legal status count as looking to stir trouble now?

Regardless, even if he was trying to irritate the cop — so what? It excuses nothing the cop did. Cops shouldn’t be so thin-skinned.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Alternatively...

They are needed when employees are being abused by owners. To bargain for the group to get better things.
They should not exist to keep men caught smoking dope and drinking on lunch break on the line making cars.
They should not exist to keep cops who have violated someones rights or the law on the job.
There is a clear line, but so often they make sure they protect the membership no matter what… even at the expense of justice.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Alternatively...

There is a clear line, but so often they make
sure they protect the membership no matter what…
even at the expense of justice.

Well, that and the fact that the public employee unions in my state are pretty much bankrupting it with their constant demands for more and more of the public’s money, even when it’s clear there’s nothing left to give. Their response? “Just raise taxes so we can have more!”

Leeches on society, nothing more.

Guardian says:

nazi canada

other day we had 20 cop-s one standing at every street corner

i started talking nice n loud how my grand fatehr fought in 2 world wars and north korea and his stories….about him fighting for freedom, then i said for everyone to start take pictures and the cops left.

i went into a store and one female one followed me in

i asked what would you like a cofffee, she said no i need food, i replied with a questionable spirit…”donut?”

the whole store burst out laughing, didnt get beat up or arrested but i quickly left, hopped on a electric bike and went on tour….

i just have urge when i see a cop getting paid 90 grand a year standing around to pelt them with a donut , a strip a bacon, and a coffee

Anonymous Coward says:

For those of us living in countries with saner measurement systems

90 feet ~ 30 meters.

I cannot visualize how far 90 feet is (I only know that a feet is approximately the length of a common 30 cm ruler). But 30 meters (actually 27 meters, rounded to have the same amount of significant digits)… that is quite far.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: For those of us living in countries with saner measurement systems

Not really as a football (US) field is 100 yards (US).

Problem is that is not the length of a Soccer field (UK and world football).

US football is just not played in the rest of the world especially where (UK football) Soccer is played so some one who has no idea what a foot (measurement) is would have no idea what the length of a US football field is.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: For those of us living in countries with saner measurement systems

American football is played in other countries to a certain degree, but it’s not particularly popular. Part of it’s due to there not being the room/equipment needed for the sport (while any kid can set up a game of association football if there’s a ball available even in crowded poverty-stricken hellholes). Part of it’s due to being perceived as the poor man’s version of rugby and/or many similar games (e.g. Aussie rules football).

But, outside the US, UK and some other ex-colonies, everyone uses the metric system. Even the UK is changing to certain degree but it’s slow going (weights in supermarkets are now usually listed in metric first, though roads still use imperial measurements). There will be holdouts – I can’t imagine the wailing from the right wing press if/when UK roads switch to kms – but most appear to be heading that way.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Re: Re: For those of us living in countries with saner measurement systems

Hey “buddy”, real football, as described by over 6 Billion people in the world is played on a field(pitch) of this approximate size, 105 by 68 metres (115 yd ? 74 yd). While “football” can be used to describe a number of sports more or less related like American football, Aussie rules football, etc…Football in most countries when stated with no qualifier, refers to what us “yanks” call Soccer.
Now, to put into perspective for the original poster(whose measurment equivalences are pretty good, 90ft would be 30yrds, which would be just over 1/4 the length of a standard Pitch.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, a more apt solution would be the following.
A cop who has one initial suit filed where the City/PD pays a settlement, would be suspended without pay for 2 weeks(does not equate in dollars but loss of pay is a loss). For future settlements tied to the officer up to the third one, the suspension would increase in 2 week increments. If office received a 4th complaint and finding with settlement, he would be terminated and all pension moneys “earned” would be forfeit to assist in covering the cost of the insurance and settlements.
This way the officer would face real punishments, the city would see some return from the offenses, and ultimately, repeat offenders would be removed from the city payroll.
For the officers I have dealt with in the last few years, i have utmost respect. They treated my politely and with respect. However, there are just enough jerks on the various forces, that this method would likely yield net benefits in that those with Napoleon Complexes would be removed from public service.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A cop who has one initial suit filed where
the City/PD pays a settlement, would be suspended
without pay for 2 weeks

Well, considering that the city will routinely settle even the most frivolous lawsuits for their nuisance value, if your system was implemented, it wouldn’t be long before the shitbags would clue in that all they’d have to do to get back at the cops that arrested them would be to file a lawsuit over some made up grievance and you’d have every cop on the force on suspension.

AndyD273 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I like this idea.
I’m not anti-union, just anti unions enabling stupidity.

Unions protecting bad cops.
Unions in Detroit forcing the city to employ a farrier (guy who shoes horses) even though the city doesn’t have any horses any more.

Unions do and have done a lot of good, but a few examples like these make me wonder if there might be another solution that isn’t worse than the problem they are trying to solve.

DanZee (profile) says:

It's obvious

Well, it’s obvious why the cops don’t want to be photographed, especially in LA. There are a lot of bad cops doing bad things and they rely upon other cops to “back up” their stories, no matter how insane that story may sound. After all, it would be the perps word against several fine officers. Photographic evidence of them doing bad things would make it hard to lie.

But cops routinely think of reasons to detain people, just to harass them. It shows their authority and creates fear in the population.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: It's obvious

There are a lot of bad cops doing bad things and they rely upon other cops to “back up” their stories, no matter how insane that story may sound. After all, it would be the perps word against several fine officers. Photographic evidence of them doing bad things would make it hard to lie.

Hard, but not impossible. Nee (the photographer) notes that he withholds a certain amount of footage because the cops will concoct a story to fit what’s caught on tape, one that justifies their actions. When the additional footage makes it out, this punches holes in their narratives.

Anonymous Coward says:

and yet another case off how the USA has deteriorated and is allowing,no, more like encouraging it, to become a police state. when a law enforcement officer can perform in this way then there is something wrong with both the ‘laws being used’ and the way the officers are executing those laws. on the other hand, it could just be that these officers in particular are just using their positions to discriminate and penalise people as and when they feel like it.

Anonymous Coward says:

intimidation, that is a standard police training method here in Australia as well.

how do you “passively” film someone?, you are either filming them or not.

I would expect he was in fact ACTIVELY filming him, not that it makes any difference.

And lastly, education is not a prime requirement to become a cop, nor a particular knowledge of the law!

Jeremy says:

The solution is nested photographers.

Nee goes to film a police action from 90 feet away. While he’s doing that, another photographer stands 90 feet away from Nee, ready to film Nee when he gets harassed. 90 feet away from photographer #2, you put a photographer #3, etc…

Eventually, all LAPD will be able to do with their time is harass citizen journalists.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t get why other officers keep pulling this shit it’s absurd and it gives us good officers a bad rep. I don’t like cameras in my face, however if I want to go out and shoot some video of my own I don’t wanna be arrested for doing it.

I’ve been suspended without pay for stopping it and the others do not like me because of it. We’re here to keep the peace and I have no problem arresting an officer for breaking the law.

Paul says:

Re: Conspiracy

Thanks for your comment and insight. I appreciate someone being able to find the humor hidden around us, especially in a bad situation. It always shows me there is still hope.

As a Liver then Neck & Throat Cancer survivor who fought an extremely harsh 4 1/2 year battle to continue waking up each day, I learned that “Life is full of choices, CHOOSE HOPE!” I learned this statement from a T shirt I purchased at

Jasmine Charter (user link) says:

And then...

And just WAIT until Google Glass (or something similiar) becomes mainstream and everyone in the crowd is recording…

THEN what will they do? Arrest everyone?

Seriously… this is a NO BRAINER. They work for US. They SERVE the public. They don’t like being in the public eye… go find another job.

The fact is, the public has EVERY right to record and photograph a PUBLIC SERVANT doing their job – again, as long as they aren’t ACTUALLY interfering with the investigation, arrest or other action.

Tiernoc says:

For What it's Worth:

Am I the only one who thought that the photographer was answering the officer’s questions in such a manner as to provoke him? If I heard someone talking in such a manner I would certainly suspect some form of recording device too.

While I absolutely abhor what the police departments in this country have become, this entire thing could have been avoided had he simply been a little more forthcoming to the first officer. “I am a freelance photographer who takes living / sidewalk photography” Sounds a lot more realistic and believable then constantly asking an officer “Am I being detained?” and “I don’t have to answer that.”

Not that I disagree with WHAT the photographer said, but it seems that it was deliberately phrased in a way to get him pestered and allow him to catch it on film.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: For What it's Worth:

“I would certainly suspect some form of recording device too.”

Huh? He obviously has a camera and was taking pictures. What would it matter if he also was taking video?

Not only was the guy some distance away, he was behind a fence. Clearly not a threat. Why is the officer even talking to him?

And yes, it DOES seem like the guy wanted to get this sort of thing on film. There’s nothing that says the officer has to take the bait though.

The one question I do have is if there is a law in California requiring you to give your name to an officer when he asks. I think some places do have such a law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: For What it's Worth:

“If I heard someone talking in such a manner I would certainly suspect some form of recording device too.”

When did “suspicion of possessing a recording device and using it to publicly record police in the execution of their public duties” become an issue?

Just like the rest of us, the officer has no expectation of privacy in a public setting. Sounds like that’s what the officer wants. If he was deliberately provoked, then shame on him for taking such obvious bait!

DSchneider (profile) says:

Re: For What it's Worth:

Does it really matter what he said? He could have called the cop a pinko communist fascist pig cocksucker and it shouldn’t have mattered. He was doing nothing wrong and we have this thing called the 1st Amendment.

Was Nee being an ass? A little bit, but who cares. Far to many cops seem to think that any manner of disrespect is somehow a threat to their “authoritah” and they need to do something about it. What they should do is simply roll their eyes and walk away.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: For What it's Worth:

The officer had no right to approach him

The officer had every right to approach him. Just like anyone else has a right to approach Nee on a public street. The cop may not have had a right to detain him, or demand that he stop photographing, but to simply walk up to him and engage him in dialog? Of course the cop has that right. Anyone has that right.

kitsune361 (profile) says:

Re: For What it's Worth:

They were all very polite (as they all knew they were on film), but evading simple questions has got to raise their suspicions. If I were a freelance documentarian in a place like LA, I’d get cards made just for this situation:

Bob Blahblah
Freelance Photographer/Documentarian

In my experience, if you have a business card, people respond more favorably and less suspiciously.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Several years from now we will have wearable computers being used by a sizeable chunk of the population, and many people will run them continuously. What happens then?

Do the police insist that Google magically figure out a way to determine who is, and isn’t a police officer, and shut the camera off, even if they are plain clothed officers?

That reminds me of something …

Anonymous Coward says:

You need to get a grip on reality. These guys have a dangerous job to do. A little cooperation is not too much to ask for. When asked to move, he should have moved. You have no way of knowing what they are dealing with, and they shouldn’t have to take the time prove to you why they need you to move. That’s where the delaying part of the law comes in. Some curtious actions by the public towards it’s Law Engforcement Professionals is not too much to ask for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Their “dangerous” job is typically well compensated. The bottom line is if they don’t like it, they’re free to choose another career. Let’s not pretend that they work for free.

I’d argue that the recording is being done for the officer’s safety – and 90 feet is plenty far enough to not be interfering.

Trying to drum up sympathy for a cop who MUST have something to hide if he’s so afraid of a camera just ain’t going to cut it.

Anonymous Coward says:

One of these days, someone is going to set up a trap.

They’re going to set up a bunch of cameras, and they’re going to lure a bunch of bad cops to the place, and set them off. I envision having a bunch of puppies, just a few months old, all loose in the house, and the cops come in shooting them all for the hidden cameras.

The videos will be uploaded before the raid is even over.

Henry says:


This can be solved with the addition of these two sentences to every statute criminalizing interference with a police officer.

“By itself and without more, it is not interference to photograph or otherwise record a police officer in a public place, even when the officer is engaged in the performance of his official duties.

A police officer who interferes with lawful photographing or recording shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: The U.S. Constitution

Anyone who for whatever reason trashes the
US Constitution daily should be deported
from this country immediately following any
pending civil litigation, reguardless of that

Well, you just trashed the US Constitution by suggesting that the government should violate the 1st and 5th Amendment rights of its citizens, so will you be self-deporting, or do we need to send agents to do it for you?

Phelps (user link) says:

Well Established

The good news is that the appeals courts have constantly ruled that the 1st amendment right to film the police is “Well Established”. That means that cops do NOT get qualified immunity from lawsuits, and can in fact be sued personally for violating that right.

These cops might have just bought themselves a healthy pile of debt. Personal debt.

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