Use A Camera, Go To Jail

December 7, 2009

If you live in Guam, you had better think twice before snapping a photo with your cell phone camera.  In October James Adkins was sitting in his car, taking photos with his cell phone of a car accident, when his troubles began.  As he was driving away,  his path was blocked by a police officer, who told him he could not take pictures.  You can find more details about what happened next here.  After Adkins refused to give the cops his cell phone, he wound up getting arrested and detained for about four hours.  He was charged with “obstructing governmental functions” and failure to comply.”

Adkins really got arrested because he refused to obey the police officer.  The cop didn’t care whether or not Adkins had the right to take pictures or not.  The cop demanded absolute obedience, and Adkins didn’t comply.

What is it with law enforcement types and picture taking?  Before his handlers remade him into the overweight, jolly avuncular guy we see interviewed now, Rudy Giuliani often acted like a lisping, grim faced fascist while serving as New York City Mayor. In the days just after September 11, citizens from all over the country were visiting the World Trade Center site. Many of course took photos.  On September 25, 2001 Giuliani banned all photography at Ground Zero.  He also demanded that violators be prosecuted, and their photographic equipment seized. Giuliani is an attorney and a former federal prosecutor. That didn’t stop him from ignoring the constitution.  He quickly rescinded the ban when he was informed that he was on shaky legal ground in making this decree.

For a good overview on the right to photograph, check out this post on This quote sums up the importance of the right to photograph in a free society:

“Ironically, unrestricted photography by private citizens has played an integral role in protecting the freedom, security, and well-being of all Americans. Photography in the United States has an established history of contributing to improvements in civil rights, curbing abusive child labor practices, and providing important information to crime investigators. Photography has not contributed to a decline in public safety or economic vitality in the United States. When people think back on the acts of domestic terrorism that have occurred over the last twenty years, none have depended on or even involved photography. Restrictions on photography would not have prevented any of these acts. Furthermore, the increase in people carrying small digital and cell phone cameras has resulted in the prevention of crimes and the apprehension of criminals.”

Mr. Adkins is now suing the individual police officers, the Guam Police Department and the Guam Attorney General’s Office for $3 million for violating his civil and constitutional rights. Here is the full copy of the complaint. Adkins had this to say about the case: “The primary job of all Police Officers is to protect citizens’ constitutional rights, not violate them.  These Police Officers Think They Are Above The Law…It Has To Stop.””

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