Photography Is Not A Crime is in the middle of another police department vs. citizen feud and this one, like the last, is based on dubious "crimes" and a police department's disingenuous legal response to being slammed with phone calls as a result of its own actions.
The story starts out with a Louisiana woman (Theresa Richard) being arrested by Crowley Police Dept. officers for recording inside a police station. This was the latest in a long line of attempts by the CPD to silence and intimidate Richard after she filed a lawsuit against the department for false arrest and imprisonment stemming from an incident last year, when she (along with other members of her family) were accosted by police officers and accused of stealing a safe.
Richard’s husband and brother were confronted by cops for removing a safe from [Richard's] burned house after the fire inspector had deemed the investigation over.
The two men had wheeled the safe over on a dolly because the house was only down the street from where Richard lived.
But police arrived and accused them of stealing the safe. Richard said they also assaulted her and ordered her back inside her home. However, they ended up leaving without arresting anybody.
Richard couldn't get anyone at her local paper to cover the lawsuit against the CPD, so she took her story to a neighboring town's paper
. Once it was published, she purchased copies to hand out, including one which she attempted to give to the Crowley police chief. That's when things went downhill.
[W]hen she entered the department to drop the newspaper off while carrying her camera as it was recording, she ended up getting arrested for “remaining after being forbidden,” which appears to be Louisiana’s version of trespassing…
Now police are refusing to return her camera in complete violation of the law as the United States Department of Justice specified in its guidelines from last year.
The guidelines allow warrantless seizures only
if there is "evidence of a crime" and then only for as long as it takes to secure a warrant. The CPD has now had Richard's cellphone for more than a week (since Dec. 1st).
PINAC posted this story, along with contact info for the Crowley Police Dept. and the mayor of Crowley, Greg Jones. Carlos Miller also encouraged readers to connect with the department through its Facebook page.
It must have been a long couple of days for the Crowley Police Dept., which fired off two letters through the city attorney
complaining about the "harassment" it has experienced as a result of the PINAC's post and Richard's own Facebook page
detailing her experiences with the department.
The first letter
, sent in response to Richard's lawyer asking for the release of her cellphone contains this ridiculous paragraph. (All punctuation errors, etc. in the original.)
Mrs. Richards posting and contact with the Police Department have increased and are beyond free speech. She is expressing more than mere opinion she is inciting and causing others to harass, confront and threaten physical violence against police officers. Email to the City website from other person express a willingness to physically confront officers and warnings of violence when encountering police. Her statements are encouraging other to engage in acts and confrontations which could lead to serious injury to police officers, innocent bystanders and themselves.
A thorough examination of Richard's Facebook page shows nothing of the sort. Here's everything that's been posted dealing directly with contacting the CPD.
Feel free to call the chief and ask how long he plans to keep the video of my so called disturbance. His number is (337)783-1234. Regan's number is (337)783-7141. Share! [link]
The second letter
Thanks again for the flood of support! They know we are not going away, they know that I will not be intimidated and they know that I will keep doing what I KNOW is right. [link]
I would like to ask a favor of my friends living here in Crowley or surrounding areas to PLEASE let me know if you have ALSO been harassed over sharing my post or supporting my family by members of Crowley Police Department. I starting to hear from a few of my closest friends that officers from CPD are threatening to make things difficult for people who support me. PLEASE let us know if this has happened to you. Send me a PM and I will forward it to my attorney. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. [link]
, sent a day later (the day PINAC published its article), is more of the same. The posting at PINAC obviously greatly increased the amount of incoming calls. The city's lawyer gripes about this being turned over to the court of public opinion and notes that these calls won't result in the release of Richard's phone. He also claims the PD's phone system potentially won't be able to handle the influx of calls, although he seems to indicate that it's working just fine so far.
It goes on to complain that some of the calls have been "abusive" and contain "foul language" and "name calling." While it's certainly not the preferable
outcome, it is often the inevitable
outcome when thousands of people are made aware of something that previously only a handful of individuals were privy to. City Attorney Thomas Regan wraps up his second letter with this:
I urge you again to ask your client to restrain her actions and conduct herself appropriately and ask that her followers do as well. They can use Facebook and other social media to express themselves, but it is necessary that she immediately deescalate the direct attack and threats to police and telephone harassment.
There are several problems with this. First off, as noted above, Richard isn't making threats or "direct attacks," nor is she encouraging others to do so.
Second, and most importantly, how utterly condescending (and colossally stupid) for the city (via its attorney) to "allow" people to discuss this incident on "social media." Of course they can do that. And there's nothing the CPD can do about it. But they also have the right to seek the redress of grievances directly
. If the CPD isn't enjoying this negative attention, then maybe it will think twice before using BS tactics to seize citizens' recordings.
Then again, maybe it won't.
Since her arrest last week, she said they have posted signs banning photography and videography in the station. As if a makeshift sign would trump the Constitution.
The city's attorney may be hoping two stern letters will "deescalate" the bombardment of calls to the PD -- a direct result of its own actions -- but it seems more likely that it will only get worse before it gets any better. As we saw earlier, some police departments are willing to bend criminal law to silence criticism, and from the looks of these letters, CPD may decide to become a member of that select group. It's already used a questionable criminal charge as justification for seizing Richard's cellphone and has taped up a sign that indicates it's in the business of making up rules on the spot. Charging someone with harassment or intimidation or assault or whatever would hardly be unexpected.