Seattle Cops James Pitts and David Toner Pwned After Trying to Take Photographer’s Camera

Seattle Cops James Pitts and David Toner Pwned After Trying to Take L33T Photographer's Camera

PopPhoto Flash: The Crime of Photography: Rewarded! Pop Photo blogs about the case of amateur photographer Bogdan Mohora who was jailed in Seattle last year after he took photos of police that they didn’t want him to take during an arrest.

Although Mohora was only briefly detained he pushed the issue and worked with the ACLU to get an $8,000 settlement for his arrest. The two officers involved in the incident James Pitts and David Toner, pictured above, were discilplined with written reprimands for a lack of professionalism and poor exercise of discretion.

Photography, even of the police, is not a crime. Think about this the next time a cop tells you that you cannot take a photograph. The police should know better than this and I’m glad that Mohara is $8,000 richer after being harrased by them.

The sad thing is that the police get away with telling photographers not to shoot probably 99% of the time. It’s only when photographers really push the issue and insist on their First Ammendment rights that we see this stuff in the press.

More from the Seattle Times here. And more from the Seattle PI here.

Thanks CJ for the heads up!

On Boing Boing here.

Update. Officer David Toner responds:

“Hello, I just came across this web site while looking for something else and read the comments about Mahora’s incident. I am the officer that arrested Mahora. I have seen a lot of negative comments concerning this arrest and wanted to give you my perspective. First of all I would like to say that not one single person has contacted me about my side of this arrest. Not the press, not the ACLU, and not one single individual. All of the results of this have been based on Mahora’s less that honest and rather self serving retelling of the arrest.

First off, Mahaora has every right to photograph police officers while doing their everday work. Some exceptions apply but not in this case. There were outside circumstances that caused this arrest to become more dangerous to both the officers and the two men being contacted. The fact that Mahora was taking pictures of the event was not in and of itself an issue. I get photographed doing my job more often than you’d think and have no problem with it. The problem arose when Mahora got too close to us to take his pictures. I had asked him to move back and he did. Eventually he got close in again and was again instructed to step back a short distance. Again he complied. The third time became a serious officer safety situation when my partner was handcuffing a compliant suspect and I was seated in my car several feet away. I looked back to make sure my partner was under control with his suspect and there was Mahaora standing right next to me blocking my exit out if needed, taking a close up of my face. At this time I saw that my partner was fine and then placed Mahora under arrest for hindering.

Many other parts of Mahora’s story were inaccurate and sometimes out and out lies but they do not address this particular topic so I won’t go into them. Suffice is to say that this was not an issue about trying to suppress anyones constitutional rights but one of keeping two police officers safe while trying to do their job.

As for the $8000, Mahora was given the money as a settlement out of court as there was no court case about this. He won nothing but was simply paid off to “go away”. This is common practice for governments to do since handling a case in court will cost many times that amount. And yes, it makes me mad as well since that was yours and my tax money paying off a guy who was in the wrong. That’s politics for ya. I know that this will not mean anything to some of you who are quick to blame us dirty stinking cops for everything you can but I know that most of you know that we are all in this together and some might have wanted to hear the other side. Thanks”

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30 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this. It’s nice to hear that overzealous cops are held accountable sometimes.

    Maybe the professor that was kicked out of the Oakland zoo will push the issue as well.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “disciplined with written reprimands.”

    If I were to take a person’s possessions, handcuff them, and take them off the street in my car, I’d be charged with theft and kidnapping.

    Even though this looks like a win for liberty, it still shows that cops are above the law.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s also not illegal to show the faces of people being arrested, guilty or not…though the blurring of faces in this photo seems to suggest otherwise. I understand that the photographer wants to be sensitive to the private citizens, but it’s a confusing message of censorship amid a discussion of what’s allowable to take pictures of.

    I only say this because I’ve had friends take pictures of arrests and cops telling them it’s OK, as long as they don’t show the face of the arrested.

  4. Andrew says:

    “I’ve had friends take pictures of arrests and cops telling them it’s OK, as long as they don’t show the face of the arrested.”

    I always get a kick out of people — cops or otherwise — who make up the law off the tops of their heads.

    You can’t shoot minors without their parents’ permission. You can’t shoot cops. You can’t shoot bridges. You need a model release to take anyone’s photo. You can’t shoot a horse whose tail has a white streak on it. You can’t shoot the color red after midnight. And so on.

    “If you can see it, you can shoot it.” Nice and simple.

  5. Alan says:

    Download The Photographers’ Right and carry it in your wallet. That way you can read the fuzz your rights before they try and take away yours. Previous posters’ comments about what you can and can’t take photos of aren’t correct. If they are in the public arena, or have no assumption of privacy, then shoot away!

  6. teacher dude says:

    I had a similar experience in Greece while covering a peaceful demo in Thessaloniki. I was attacked, beaten and detained by Greek riot police.

    I’m suing them but the courts are loathe to prosecute the police for anything short of murder.

    See here for more details;

    http://teacherdudebbq.blogspot.com/search?q=mat

  7. Good for Mohora!

    Photographing police in your country might not be illegal but in some countries it actually is. Usually in countries with some sort of dictatorship and an ex-soldier as a leader.

    For example in Gambia photographing police or military personal might get you in to some serious trouble. Probably unwise but I couldn’t help grabbing a couple of shots on my trip there: http://markuspuustinen.com/galleriat/07/02/the_gambia_experience/images/sotilas.jpg

  8. Poll Junkie says:

    “It’s also not illegal to show the faces of people being arrested, guilty or not…though the blurring of faces in this photo seems to suggest otherwise. I understand that the photographer wants to be sensitive to the private citizens, but it’s a confusing message of censorship amid a discussion of what’s allowable to take pictures of.”

    No one censored anything here. There’s a difference between censorship & tact. Censorship is when the government or some other body tells you what you can publish. Choosing not to publish something because it might unfairly embarrass or otherwise effect someone is tact.

    You’re right that there’s nothing -illegal- about posting the unedited photo, but sometimes legal and right are not the same thing. In this case, the person being arrested is not guilty (according to the witness at least).

    Put yourself in the position of the man in the photo… You’re being arrested for something that you’re innocent of. If someone took a picture of the event, would you want it posted all over the net? What would your boss say if someone emailed the photo to him (minus the context, of course)? How about your fiancee, or more importantly her parents? Sure, you could explain it, but should you have to?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Nice to know photographers DO have rights!
    Thanks Thomas!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hey police officers have to do their jobs. It could create several safety issues for them to be captured on film by just anybody. There are a lot of crazy people in the world, why question something so unimportant when he could have easily been trying to use the images for harm? Nothing to make a big deal about.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Keep in mind that police investigators have the right to seize any material it sees may yield in the investigation and considered evidence in a crime, arrest, etc. This includes not only the images, memory cards but the camera itself as well. My good friend who is a FD lieutenant while buffering a call snapped images of a fire with a personal DSLR $5000 camera which was seized by the courts never to be seen again. Just keep in mind that when the courts are scrambling for evidence your name better not be on their lists.

  12. bigskyguy says:

    I recently took photos of the bombed-out Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia. The building was bombed during a NATO air strike in 1999, and remains abandoned and unaltered. While shooting, a large military uniformed man appeared in front of me and demanded my camera (I think — no English). I simply smiled and put my camera away, appearing as non-threatening as possible. He let me go. Here’s the scoop on the bombing:
    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/05/12/cia/print.html

  13. Fabien Penso says:

    Do you know if that would apply to foreign photographers. If I am going to NYC for few weeks, would I be allowed with the same rights, or not ?

  14. Thomas Hawk says:

    Fabien, foreign photographers have just as much right to photograph the police in the United States as U.S. Citizens. Shoot away. If they hassle you you could end up $8,000 richer!

  15. “Maybe the professor that was kicked out of the Oakland zoo will push the issue as well.”

    I don’t think he’ll have any luck with the photography issue as he was on private property at the time. Photography rights are only unrestricted on public property.

  16. Anonymous says:

    About the ‘blurring the faces’ issue, #1, if they’re a minor, you can’t show their face. I don’t know why that is, but I suppose it’s to protect them from undo harassment.

    For adults over the age of 18, it’s bad practice, because just because they’re being arrested does NOT mean they are guilty of a crime, so showing them (and their face) in handcuffs suggests that they were being arrested for breaking a law, which is not true. Their faces are blurred as kind of a “photographer’s etiquette.”

  17. Anonymous says:

    Word of advice, people seem to be confusing 2 issues. 1) Photographing the event and 2) publishing the picture. While photographing the event or item, person, building etc.is legal, publishing the photograph is covered by different rules and they may lead you to trouble.
    I worked as a freelance photographer many years ago and you need to be very careful about what you publish. Get some basic education on the law as it pertains to photography and publishing if you plan on doing anything with the photographs other than keeping them for your own personal use.

  18. Thomas Hawk says:

    Word of advice, people seem to be confusing 2 issues. 1) Photographing the event and 2) publishing the picture. While photographing the event or item, person, building etc.is legal, publishing the photograph is covered by different rules and they may lead you to trouble.

    Anonymous, as long as you are publishing the photographs as fine art or for news or editorial purposes there is nothing to worry about.

    The only incident to worry about is when you use an image commercially as in XYZ in this photo says buy Crest Toothpaste. Model releases are need for commercial stock photo use, but for both editorial and fine art you can publish anything you’d like with no repercussion whatsoever.

  19. right to privacy says:

    Is it really lawful to photograph people going about their business on the streets?

    I’d feel harassed and intimidated, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t Mohora if he was honest?

    And if I asked someone to stop photographing me and he refused I’d like to think the law would turn a blind eye if I smacked the clown.

  20. Welcome to the United Police States of America says:

    http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060629/NEWS01/106290121

    In New Hampshire, it may actually be illegal to video police officers in the line of duty, even when they’re in your own house.

    Seriously, the US of A is a police state, and it’s getting worse, and it’s all because the Christian Right gets to vote.

  21. dglenn says:

    Re: right to privacy saying, “Is it really lawful to photograph people going about their business on the streets? I’d feel harassed and intimidated, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t Mohora if he was honest?”

    Personally, I wind up in front of strangers’ lenses more often than strangers wind up i n front of mine (all the more so if you count cameraphones … and I am not counting security cameras!).

    Despite the fact that a significant percentage of the people shooting me are jerks about it at the time, and/or take my picture because they want to mock me later, I still support the current state of the law, under which photographing people is legal as long as you’re not breaking some other law (such as trespassing) to do so.

    And I’m still friendly and gracious towards those who act civilly while photographing me. (I mostly try to ignore the rude ones; I never tell them to stop, but I do occasionally point my own camera at them. Oddly enough, they tend to freak out when I do so despite having been taking my picture seconds earlier. Huh.)

  22. Anonymous says:

    this is great for skateboarding actually…thank you!

  23. Anonymous says:

    unfortunately in New York you’d have to push this all the way to the Supreme Court, because New York city has passed a local ordinance prohibiting the use of cameras, except for brief tourist-style shots, without a permit.

  24. jasmine says:

    hey your blog is erally good one thanx for sharing it

    jasmine
    tech-chek.blogspot.com

  25. jemmans says:

    There is another side to the story and that is anyone is entiled not to be photographer when asked. The Police especially as they are putting their lives on the line. A criminal may be have a issue with a police office and photographs and location will not help. I would blur the officers faces and leave the other two alone.

  26. khan says:

    “I’m glad that Mohara is $8,000 richer”

    Do you think that $8,000 magically appeared out of thin air? That money came out of the pockets of the taxpayers.

  27. Anonymous says:

    “Do you think that $8,000 magically appeared out of thin air? That money came out of the pockets of the taxpayers.”

    Granted, but the police are employed by the state, hence the state is responsible for their misdeeds. Would t be more acceptable if the police had to pay the $8,000 out of their own pockets?

  28. Toner says:

    Hello, I just came across this web site while looking for something else and read the comments about Mahora’s incident. I am the officer that arrested Mahora. I have seen a lot of negative comments concerning this arrest and wanted to give you my perspective. First of all I would like to say that not one single person has contacted me about my side of this arrest. Not the press, not the ACLU, and not one single individual. All of the results of this have been based on Mahora’s less that honest and rather self serving retelling of the arrest. First off, Mahaora has every right to photograph police officers while doing their everday work. Some exceptions apply but not in this case. There were outside circumstances that caused this arrest to become more dangerous to both the officers and the two men being contacted. The fact that Mahora was taking pictures of the event was not in and of itself an issue. I get photographed doing my job more often than you’d think and have no problem with it. The problem arose when Mahora got too close to us to take his pictures. I had asked him to move back and he did. Eventually he got close in again and was again instructed to step back a short distance. Again he complied. The third time became a serious officer safety situation when my partner was handcuffing a compliant suspect and I was seated in my car several feet away. I looked back to make sure my partner was under control with his suspect and there was Mahaora standing right next to me blocking my exit out if needed, taking a close up of my face. At this time I saw that my partner was fine and then placed Mahora under arrest for hindering. Many other parts of Mahora’s story were inaccurate and sometimes out and out lies but they do not address this particular topic so I won’t go into them. Suffice is to say that this was not an issue about trying to suppress anyones constitutional rights but one of keeping two police officers safe while trying to do their job. As for the $8000, Mahora was given the money as a settlement out of court as there was no court case about this. He won nothing but was simply paid off to “go away”. This is common practice for governments to do since handling a case in court will cost many times that amount. And yes, it makes me mad as well since that was yours and my tax money paying off a guy who was in the wrong. That’s politics for ya. I know that this will not mean anything to some of you who are quick to blame us dirty stinking cops for everything you can but I know that most of you know that we are all in this together and some might have wanted to hear the other side. Thanks

  29. Thomas Hawk says:

    David, can you shoot me an email at tom(at)thomashawk.com. I want to confirm that the person writing that last comment is actually you, but if it is I’d be happy to add your comment as a response to the main body of this article.

    Tom

  30. […] now. Instead, we have police departments freaking out about glowing signs and harassing people and confiscating cameras for the simple act of taking a few pictures. Sheesh. Posted in Family, Idiocy, Life, […]