DHS Fusion Center Admits Photographer Is Covered By 1st Amendment But Just Doesn't Like The Way He Treats Officers

from the rights-apparently-dependent-on-compliant-behavior dept

The uselessness of the Department of Homeland Security’s Fusion Centers has been detailed here before, but they’ve never been quite as useless as this. Here’s the backstory, from Carlos Miller at Photography Is Not A Crime.

All Jeff Gray has been trying to do is ensure law enforcement officers honor the oath they swore to the Constitution upon receiving their badge, which is why he routinely video records them in public for his Youtube channel, HONORYOUROATH.

But that has led him to become the subject of an active investigation by the Florida Fusion Center, a collusion of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies encouraging citizens to rat on each other for taking too many pictures or asking too many questions.

When not recording interactions with cops, Gray also photographs publicly-visible structures like government buildings and prisons — the sort of photography that has been equated with terrorism by the DHS.

Gray sent FOIA requests to several law enforcement agencies for anything they may have collected on his photography and recording efforts. Some requests didn’t produce any documents, but others he obtained show that law enforcement agencies clearly don’t know how to solve a problem like Jeff.

The most ridiculous document Jeff Gray obtained was from a DHS Fusion Center. Here’s the Center’s rationale for treating Gray with suspicion: He’s clearly covered by the First Amendment. We just don’t like his attitude.


On 06-23-2013, units with CCSO were dispatched to CCA, a private prison located within Columbia County, after being contacted by prison staff in reference to a suspicious person. The Subject was recording and or taking pictures of the front as he was standing on a public access across the street from the prison. Once confronted by prison staff the subject only stated that he was an independent journalist and was doing a story on the prison system. The subject refused to stop videoing after being asked to do so by prison staff. During the confrontation the subject referred to his first amendment right to be there and continued to question and press the staff to give him a reason why he could not record the outside of the facility. Once law enforcement arrived, the subject was asked for identification, the subject asked if he was being detained and once told that he was not he refused to provide ID to law enforcement. Ultimately the situation was diffused and the subject left. The subject later posted the videos of his encounters with the prison staff and CCSO Deputies on YouTube and on another website called photography is not a crime.com. This subject is exercising his first amendment rights, however the manner in which he lures the officers in is concerning.

To paraphrase Homer Simpson: it takes two to lure, one to lure and one to overreact to the utter lack of criminal activity. But the Fusion Center obviously believes that, First Amendment or no, Gray should be checked out because he’s making police officers, prison staff and government agents looks bad with his “manner.”

On the bright side (I guess…), the Fusion Center’s “investigation” apparently involved little more than rigorously browsing the internet.

The following information has been learned from viewing the mentioned website and the subject’s YouTube account.

The findings? Gray urges people to “flex their rights,” and publicly calls out (via YouTube postings) officers who fail to respect his rights. Troubling stuff, but not for the reason the DHS thinks.

Beyond the DHS’s belief that Gray’s attitude should somehow nullify his rights, other troubling info was uncovered as well.

Gray also obtained a series of field intelligence reports from the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office regarding his video activity. One of the reports includes an incident when he was visited by the Florida Department of Children and Families after they claimed they received an anonymous tip that he had guns in his home, which is not a crime and not even a secret considering Gray is very open about his gun ownership.

But that didn’t stop DCF from interviewing his children at school without his knowledge before paying him a visit at home, which he video recorded and posted on Youtube, as well as his follow-up phone conversation with the investigator that his children were not in any imminent danger, so there was no need to further investigate him.

I guess the lesson here is that “luring” cops and security guards through the open exercise of your rights is all the reason needed for law enforcement and government agencies to open investigations. The implication that there’s something more wrong with Gray’s “luring” than there is with law enforcement’s response is ridiculous. Law enforcement officers certainly don’t need to “flex” their misguided muscle when confronted with a citizen “flexing” their rights. One is wholly optional while the other is actually protected activity.

This lousy spin attempt from the Fusion Center does nothing to improve the reputation of this national travesty. Maybe next time, officers could just walk away and not become YouTube fodder. But they can’t seem to help themselves, and the DHS seems to believe it’s all Gray’s fault.

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Comments on “DHS Fusion Center Admits Photographer Is Covered By 1st Amendment But Just Doesn't Like The Way He Treats Officers”

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Erik Grant says:

I’m not sure what the outrage is here. By all rights, none of the law enforcement personnel that the author talked about did anything wrong. He made them uncomfortable so they asked him to stop, and he refused. Which is perfectly legal. The cops did not threaten to detain or arrest him. The authorities conducted a review in which they determined he was exercising his first amendment rights and wasn’t doing anything illegal. Yeah, the one comment at the end is a little disconcerting, but in terms of what the authorities actually did, it seems perfectly reasonable and without any abuse of power. Isn’t that a good thing?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The abuse of power comes in the form of investigations launched against him for perfectly lawful activity and the subsequent dismissal of his civil rights because of his “attitude.”

If a bad attitude were a criminal offense, most cops that I have encountered would meet the criteria and should be locked up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is how a police state is built, make it much easier to obey the police that to exercise your legal rights. The more that the police are allowed to get away with this attitude, the more suspicious it is for someone to exercise their rights, at least in the minds of the police. The more such people are hassled in public, the more the people that will take the easy way out, and the more control the police gain because people fear their reaction is they do not do exactly what the police are demanding.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why else do you think they did it, it was quite clearly to send a message, ‘We know where your children go to school, and can have a ‘chat’ with them any time we feel like it’.

Whether or not the threat is ever acted upon is irrelevant at that point, like you said, what parent is going to risk it when dealing with people so screwed up that they’ll involve the kids of the person they have a problem with just to make a point?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You mean other than submitting him to a multijurisdictional clusterfsck known as a Fusion Center?

Or when the officers overstepped their rights, and were angry that he knew and stood up for his rights?

That they secretly spoke to his children about his ownership of guns following up an alleged tip about something, fishing for information from children.
This would be the same DCF that has had multiple children in care under their watch turn up missing and dead, but they had time to go after someone who bothered some cops that one time.

Yes this totally wasn’t a witch hunt started because dude takes pictures and wasn’t meek enough when they pursued it… wanna buy a bridge?

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, for one thing, the fact that a public official cannot legally ask someone to stop exercising rights.

Simply standing there in uniform at least implies an official order, no matter how the order is phrased. An official order to stop exercising a constitutional right is what is known as a color of law violation (18USC242). The most basic level of such a violation, an oral order to stop exercising rights, is worth a year in federal prison and/or a $1,000 fine, assuming a federal prosecutor can be bothered to file the charges.

In many states (and at the federal level) simply possessing a firearm while committing a crime makes that crime an armed crime. A law enforcement officer resting a hand on or near a holstered firearm is a threat of deadly force. A violation of rights by a public official with threat or use of a dangerous weapon (batons, TASERs, pepper spray and firearms all qualify) elevates the punishment of the offense to ten years and/or $10,000 fine.

Two or more public officials acting together to violate rights (even at the oral order level) trip over the conspiracy against rights statute (18USC241), which starts penalties off one step more severe than the individual color of law offenses, at ten years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

By any standard, a crime carrying a sentence of ten years in prison if convicted is a felony.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Scary

“So we’ve got a few questions we’d like to ask you, and after having a friendly chat with your children- oh, did we mention we know where and when your children go to school? Of course, that’s completely unrelated to what we wanted to talk to you about, now that I’ve said it I don’t even know why I brought it up in the first place… Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, we’ve got a few questions we’d like to ask you…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Name a single place in history where people achieved freedom in a police state without bloodshed?

Not the answer huh? Good thing you were not around during WWII.

USA Founding Fathers are on record ad nausea that we would eventually have to fight for our freedoms again. Hence the 2nd Amendment.

The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of Patriots and Tyrants!

Give me Liberty or Give me Death!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

There is a time and place for that sort of response. That is neither the time nor the place. Responding to violence with violence is should be a last resort and is a risky move at that as utilizing the very methods that you are criticizing your opponents for using can quickly erode any moral high ground on which you stand.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

virtually all remedies open to a citizenry have been rendered moot, rigged, and/or corrupted…
THERE IS NO RECOURSE, we can’t even get ‘redress for our greivances’; we are subject to fucking “free speech zones” FOR FUCK’S SAKE: fascist authoritarianism is right in your face, unless you avert your gaze as Empire wants you to…
injustice you say ?
KARDASHIANS, BOOBS, SEX, etc ad nauseum…
civil rights you say ?
bread and circuses, citizen, bread and circuses…
now, shutup, eat your crust, and laugh, slave, laugh…

before an idea/meme becomes current, precursors must prepare the way…
semper paratis, kampers…

Anonymous Coward says:

Police behavior is nothing new

While the level of data collection in fusion centers, etc. is clearly more recent, this type of behavior by police is nothing new. In the 1970’s, my father was pulled over by a police officer for suspicious behavior. He had pulled out of a residential street onto a 50 MPH main road. Like many main roads in this area, there was a full width pull-off/shoulder lane to the right of the main lanes. He was in this shoulder lane accelerating – in his 40 HP VW beetle – preparing to merge into the heavier traffic. The officer stopped him because “nobody does this” and it was suspicious. My father was not one to bow to authority and proceeded to lecture the officer on how this was not illegal and it was safer for him and other drivers. I’m pretty sure he made some pointed complaint calls to officer’s superiors. This was one of his many lessons to me to know the law and be prepared to stand up for your rights. If this were today, he would probably be pretty proud of his “bad attitude.”

MM_Dandy (profile) says:

Two to 'lure'

I don’t really come down fully supporting anyone here. Yes, Mr. Miller is entitled to his First Amendment rights. Once it was confirmed that what he was doing was legitimate, the matter should have ended there. On the other hand, a reasonable person should assume that showing up and recording a secure location like a prison without prior notice will generate some attention.

As far as his gun ownership is concerned – I am in favor of a inspection system where responsible ownership can be verified (think OSHA inspections for food places). But as it is, no such system exists, and this obviously was a pretense to invade his privacy, harass him, and/or fishing for something to be used in order to bring charges against him.

In the end, I get the feeling that Mr. Miller is trolling for reaction, and DHS is giving it to him in spades.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Two to 'lure'

Look, another… “I don’t care about my freedoms so someone else shouldn’t need theirs” type.

Screw you.

The Right to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!

Something tells me you like most other idiots that are PART OF THE PROBLEM cannot read to save their own damn liberties!

Even so much as saying you must wait 2 additional seconds is an infringement.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Two to 'lure'

The second amendment is unclear, and can reasonably be interpreted either as the right for anyone to have guns or the (more limited) right for a “well organized militia” to have guns. Personally, I don’t really take a stand on this issue because I can’t decide which of these interpretations is the correct one.

However, to call someone who takes an reasonable interpretation that you happen to disagree with an idiot who can’t read is to out yourself as an idiot who can’t understand the heart of the dispute.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Two to 'lure'

“The second amendment is unclear, and can reasonably be interpreted either as the right for anyone to have guns or the (more limited) right for a “well organized militia” to have guns.”

No, it isn’t unclear at all.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

If you believe the phrase “the right of the people” in the sentence above refers to a collective, rather than an indiviudal right, you also have to believe that the phrase “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” refers to a collective, not an individual right. I’m sure your local police will be delighted to know that you’re okay with them searching your house without a warrant.

Beta (profile) says:

provocative innocence

“…The manner in which he lures the officers in is concerning.”

He is luring us in, and this is very concerning, therefore we should approach him. It is a lure, in that there is really no reason for us to approach him, and yet he is causing us to approach him by acting in a way that gives us no reason to do so. If there really were a reason for us to approach him, then he would not be luring us. In that case he would be doing nothing wrong, but in fact he is doing nothing wrong; this is very concerning.

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