Video Footage of US Bank Tower Security Guards Harassing and Threatening Photographers

The video above is an interesting one. You can read more of the backstory at Discarted, but basically a group of photographers headed out on a photowalk in Downtown L.A. only to run afoul of six security guards:

From Discarted:

“As we began photographing the US Bank Tower at 633 W. 5th Street, managed by Maguire Properties, we were approached almost immediately by a United Protective Services (UPS) security guard, and soon there were six (6!). We were told they would call the police and we would be arrested, that no pictures were allowed from their “private sidewalk,” that they actually owned the sidewalk, and that we were idiots and jerks who should quit asking questions.

The kicker is that, when Angelo of Hollywood politely explained photographers’ rights to one of the UPS guards, he responded that that was just “differing points of view.” Yeah … except that one viewpoint is about the law, and one is not.”

During the altercation, as is usually the case, the Holy Name of “9/11” was brought up yet again, as rationale for not allowing the photography. Seems like nothing ever changes. Be careful out there folks and remember, even under the new Obama administration, photography is still not a crime.

Thanks, David!

Update: an update on this incident from discarted here.

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  1. JP Holecka says:

    This happened to me outside the Chase Bank in Manhattan in 2003. I was a tourist there and was just photographing the skyline and building details as I do when the security team informed me that I could not due to security reasons. Being from Canada and I did want the hassle so I did not put up a fight at the time. When in another country I generally fight a little less not wanting to get into any immigration issues etc. I did know the law having checked prior to my visit but was not up for the fight.

    You can see the building I did manage to photograph here:

    I think you will agree that they are not terrorist surveillance shots.


  2. squid says:

    We have a US bank tower in Portland or known as big pink and a couple hundred santa’s during Santacon walked through and they only had a mild heart attack. It was fun though, i mean. I looked like fun.

  3. Adam says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I think that if photographers don’t stand up for there rights, over time more and more security guards will think that it is illegal to take picture in a situation like this. On the other hand, when the guy at the end of the video turns to the camera and says “I think we accomplished something here” it makes me think that they went there with making this video in mind. If that’s the case, I don’t agree with the approach taken.

    Its obvious that these photographers are reasonable about the situation and completely understand that the guards are only doing what they have been told to do. I also understand that the one security guard was acting aggressively but I think that if I was confronted in a situation where I wasn’t planning on being confronted, I would have said something like “look what im doing is legal, I understand that your doing what you have been told. Can I please have the contact information of someone who will help straiten out issues like this in the future.”

    I know that in some situations, things may be a bit too out of control have a reasonable conversation like this but if it did work, it would turn a 10 minute episode into a 2 minute episode and both sides could get back to what they were doing. After all, didn’t this example end up having the same result? I think so, but only after almost 10 minuets of arguing that really accomplished nothing.

    But like I said, I agree with both sides of it.

  4. Dave says:

    I see what Ian is saying, And yes you have your point of view, but you mention logical common sense ; it’s just not the same thing as a war zone on foreign soil, this is public sidewalk our tax money paved in our own country. What your talking about delves into “Thought Crime” territory

    Trust me, their is no structural information that can be used to destroy the building that’s not just common sense to any potential terrorist out there already. The architects paid tends of thousands of dollars to photographers already to take pictures of their designs in much much greater detail.

    The 911 pilots didn’t need pictures of the buildings to plan their attack, that’s the same as taking away cars, knives and shoes from the general population within a 5 mile radius of a high rise.
    Terrorists use cars, shoes and knives right, well we cant have public citizens walking around with these items, also we should take away cell phones too. Where does it end ?

    the Architect is Richard Keating, there is WAY more detail all over the web already. Richards work is a college textbook in a Civil Engineering Class for crying out loud. I guess that class should be illegal. These works of art are featured in awards, shows, books, etc, ….

  5. Brad says:

    I don’t understand why photographers pay attention to these people. I don’t. Not a big deal…

  6. Helen Murray says:

    Seems to me that the point that the photographers were trying to make was lost in their own conduct. This serious issue would have been far more relevant if they had been photograping some aspect of american society that really infringed on human rights like poverty or abuse. Gutter press photography that attempts to sensationalise events do far more damage to society and the public right to information than any government policy i know. I’m only a novice photographer but i do recognise the gray area between a right to know and the right to privacy. With the current climate in America is this all these photographers could think to do for the day.. Just an opinion.. obviously.

  7. Dave says:

    Hello Helen,

    What conduct are you speaking of? All we were doing was taking a photo-walk on a public sidewalk when we were swarmed upon. Should we wait until someone gets seriously hurt by a security guard before we expose the pattern? Attacks on the publics rights to enjoy an artistic hobby are the most vicious of all, that’s where it starts and then it spreads from there. Surely these rights are as basic and fundamental as the right of the press to cover stories such as poverty and abuse. I guess we should all be like Helen and wait until it’s too late to speak up.

  8. Kudos for being willing to stand up for your rights, and for documenting it. Nobody should allow themselves to be bullied into giving up their rights.

  9. Kenton says:

    I have to agree with Helen. Dave, the conduct she’s speaking of isn’t that you were out doing something you have every right to do. It’s the way your group dealt with the security guards. Saying things like, “Did you get that?” to the video camera is confrontational and on video comes across as trying to add sensationalism to the story.

    I feel a better tactic would have been to have one person speak for the group (the gentleman with the beard and white shirt seemed the most well spoken) with a clear concise statement. Tell them your rights and that if they want you to leave they’ll have to involve law enforcement. It could have been very simple as most of the guards seemed quite willing to listen, they were following orders after all.

    I totally agree with the fact that you stood up for your rights and and that it was documented. I just am not sure the way it was handled or documented was the most positive.

  10. Thanks for posting this, Thomas.

    I feel sad reading some of these comments.

    @Adam: The approach was to educate the security guards with the law and conflict of their policy.

    I was the one initially harassed last week and didn’t have the mental strength to take on all of them. This time around, I had the help of photographer friends who knew what to say and who to talk to.

    In regards to being reasonable, we weren’t able to calmly talk to the belligerent security guard. (We even tried calling the LAPD.)

    @Helen: I felt emotionally and psychologically abused. Seriously.

  11. […] Update 1/21/2009 3:35pm — Thanks to Thomas Hawk for blogging about this! […]

  12. Helen Murray says:

    Guy’s in all fairness they’re was a pair of you in it.Bad behaviour does not condone bad behaviour? I abhor bullying as much as I abhor S#*t stirring. The fact that Bryan informs me now that this incident was a spin off to an incident the week before further makes me believe that the photographers went down with a belligerant attitude. I understand the concept of the right to personal freedom along with the right to be allowed to perform a job that they’re paid to do. Perhaps the best avenue was to contact Maquire management following the first incident rather than recruiting a posse to fight your corner. No disrespect just an observation.

  13. The fact that Bryan informs me now that this incident was a spin off to an incident the week before further makes me believe that the photographers went down with a [belligerent] attitude.

    No. I brought an audio recorder and someone else had an iPhone (for video recording) in case we got harassed. If we didn’t get harassed, we would’ve simply taken tons of awesome photos.

    I understand the concept of the right to personal freedom along with the right to be allowed to perform a job that they’re paid to do.

    They’re building security. We were not a threat and they don’t have the right to harass people on public sidewalks.

    Perhaps the best avenue was to contact Maguire management following the first incident rather than recruiting a posse to fight your corner.

    Unlike my new photographer friend, David Sommars, I didn’t know how to gather all that information under pressure. Unlike Angelo, I didn’t know how to convey our rights.

    I apologize for not knowing how to react in this situation.

  14. Helen Murray says:

    Look, if its any consolation you’ve started a great discussion. It’s kind of scary that your peers did’t realise the extent of your distress and advice and help you in a more sensible fashion. Tecnically you do have a point but the method used was a tad off I think personally. I believe it is important to help people who do not know how to exert their rights and in endevouring to do so brings some responsibility and accountability. I’m not sure that that was reflected here.
    Perhaps that’s what this debate shoud be about.

  15. Dave says:

    I’m sure it would have been more polished if we had been seasoned reporters or actors but we just happened to have a jaolbroken iPhone that we used to take video. If we had planned to ambush the guards we would have used a 3 CCD pocketcam with a shotgun mic

    I dont feel anything was done wrong at all , and I’m sure we all learned how to be more polished should it happen again. Fact is we wanted to see for ourselves just what was the problem downtown that’s why we all came down.
    In the group we felt more secure in capturing the harassment wheras a single guy would have been hardpressed to deal with being swarmed by 5 guards

    All we did was take pictures, they came to us, they advanced us almost into the street, they threatened us with arrest, they claimed to have called the police on us. At that point we started to engage them back and call the police ourselves, you don’t get to see us quietly shooting before they came out since there was no reason to be recording then.

    Anyone who likes to photowalk in the city knows all too well the harassment that follows, all we did was tape it.

  16. Dave says:

    I must add that I agree it was a tad tacky to turn and say that
    To the camera, but that is in no way a crime!! And being tacky pales in comparison to harassing someone off the public sidewalk. You have issue with the tackyness of our amateur reporting but you don’t take a larger issue with the threatening of arrest by security guards for taking pictures from a public sidewalk?
    Let’s keep it in perspective here. We did not “Bait” anyone here and we broke no laws
    In trade we were coerced, harrased, and lied to twice within 10 minutes by guards from 2 seperate buildings
    If everyonewho was harassed was to try to expose it the problem would go away fast, we can’t afford to
    Wait for the “perfect” example, every infraction is valid.

    Do I need to make a shirt that says “Tacky is not a crime” !! LOL

  17. Helen Murray says:

    LOL indeed. I’ll leave it with you. Goodnight from Ireland :~)

  18. jp says:

    The only photog that spoke respectfully and intelligently was the last guy with the goatee and gray hair (the wisdom of us older fellas i guess). He spoke to the security in a calm, intelligent manner. And guess what, they listened to him and had calm discussion.

    It doesn’t matter how the photogs were approached or what the guards were saying. RISE ABOVE that and be CALM, INTELLIGENT and RESPECTFUL even if they are not respecting you. If you want to have a conversation with the guards, yelling, calling them names, screaming you have rights… and yes, baiting the guards isn’t smart or intelligent. Thankfully the guy in the glasses at the end shut his trap. The security guards are doing their jobs. And also note that in the end they listened, only after calm man spoke with them with respect. A lesson for anyone that is approached like this. My last word is standing up for photog rights is fine and I support it, however it is not a priority in my opinion. There are thousands of more important issues we are facing in this country that need our energy focusing on. Not yelling at a security guard.

  19. Wow, I knew there were a lot of TH haters out there, but I’m still pretty amazed at the number of idiots trying desperately to spin this as photographic wrongdoing somehow.

    Especially the ones going on about exposing structural weaknesses. First there’s the fantasy that there is some critical structural weakness to be found. Followed by the even sillier delusion that if it existed it would be magically obvious in non-load-bearing cladding? Where do you people get this nonsense? These are buildings next to public sidewalks, they’d be trivial to McVeigh if someone was so inclined.

    But even if there was some defensible reason to not want photos, that’s STILL not justification to lie about the law, lie about having called the police, and get in people’s face.

    The good news is that a big chunk of downtown L.A. photo hostility is from Maguire Properties-owned buildings. They’re going splat like an egg from the 30th floor when their debt comes due, debt they’re almost certainly too far underwater to refi. So these buildings will all have new owners in the next 12-24 months, hopefully the vultures are a little friendlier.

  20. Adam says:


    So you were harassed once, knew that the particular area was a problem, gathered your buddies and went back with a video camera. Legal or Illegal, you were asking for a confrontation.

    “I felt emotionally and psychologically abused. Seriously.”

    Didn’t you go back to this place a second time?

    Like I said before, I see both sides of this but like others have said here, its obvious from watching the video and hearing things like “did you get that on tape” and “so what do you think we accomplished” that these guys had some idea that this might happen. Its pointless. Even if you were to gather a photowalking group to do this same thing in every major city across the US at the same exact time, it wouldn’t make a difference. Going to one building in one city with a little group of friends isn’t going to make a difference either.

    Its never a good thing to loose a right. That goes for ANY right but im a little confused as to what you were looking to do here. Certainly not effect the big picture right? So possibly to post it on the internet and have a few hundred people take a look… possibly spark a little argument on a blog.

  21. Reading through this thread, it is no surprise that so many security guards and cops think they can intimidate and order photographers from taking photos.

    Everybody is so concerned about not rocking the boat that they do not even realize we’re losing our Constitutional rights faster than a sinking ship.

    For those of you that question the tactics of these photographers, you probably haven’t been swarmed by a group of muscle-bound, low IQ cops or security guards threatening you with arrest or physical harm if you don’t do something it is our guaranteed right (established by many court cases, I should ad).

    I have no doubt you would scurry away with your tail between your legs as soon as someone told you to stop taking photos.

    These guys may have been assertive in their tactics but they were not violent and they were not acting in an unlawful manner.

    It’s really shocking to see them being accused of not being “polished” enough or of “bad behavior” or of “sensationalism”.

    The point was to document the fact that U.S. Bank security guards are violating the rights of citizens. The banks may own most of the country, but they don’t own the sidewalks. At least not yet.

    But if it were up to people like you, they would own the sidewalks and decide when you can and can’t walk on them.


  22. Adam,

    That’s the problem with most people in the country. They think everything is “pointless” so they don’t even bother trying to improve things.

    You’re obviously one of those band wagon hoppers who once you see enough people on board, then you’re in.

    But if it’s just a small group of people, then you’re not in.

  23. Siebbi says:

    Mentioning the “Holy Name of 9/11” a well known quotation of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s designated successor and commander of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) comes to my mind. Goering spoke about war and extreme nationalism to Captain Gilbert, as recorded in Gilbert’s Nuremberg Diary:
    “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. …voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
    ( or
    And this works for everything, not only for war.

  24. dave says:

    Actually this DID change things, policy is being re-written as we speak. And the large mean guy got a talking to by the Co-CEO of the company that employs the guards. How do I know, I just got off the phone with the Co-CEO.

  25. Adam says:


    Please try to refrain from making assumptions about me.

    If a change was made here, it certainly wasn’t because of the video. A phone call to the CEO from someone who is being calm and explaining what happened WOULD do the same thing and it should have been what happened the first time around. Gathering friends and going back with a video camera hoping to catch it on tape is something that I would expect from teenagers, not adults.

    If your so certain that individual photographers need to be making changes right now, please do something about it. Start a legitimate organization, get photographers, non photographers and even better, companies to support you. If a big change is to be made, effecting these situations, the organizers of such a group will most likely spend years getting it to a point where the changes are seen.

    Do you honestly believe that small groups of vigilantes with video cameras are going to change the crappy attitude received from bored, underpaid security guards all across this country?

    In both of my previous comments I have been quite calm and reasonable, explaining things from the perspective of someone who also wants to see a change but realizes that this isn’t the best way to go about it.

    If these guys made a change at this location, congrats to them and I hope they see the change in the future.

    With that said, it could have very easily gone bad. The out of line security guard could easily have lost his temper and grabbed the video camera or shoved one of them. In a heated situation like that, there’s no telling what will happen. If a fight would break out on or off camera, both guys would be going to jail. Cops aren’t standing on the sidewalk watching a video to see whos the bully. So say it happened off camera, at that point it would be the word of paid security guards against the word of a group of guys with cameras, in court. In court man! Is that really what you want to take this to? That didn’t happen here but watch the video, watch the guards hand movements and tell me that it wasn’t really close to happening.

    If this kind of action is the photography community’s general consensus as to what needs to be done, people trying to duplicate this might not be so lucky. Is this approach really what we want to reflect onto younger generations of photographers?

    Its definitely not the approach that I will be taking.

  26. […] Read more about their encounter at “Wasting Breath” with US Bank Tower’s Security Team and US Bank Tower: The Aftermath.  Some really great reporting on the incident.  Thomas Hawk also has commentary and a video on the US Bank Tower issue in the blog post titled Video Footage of US Bank Tower Security Guards Harassing and Threatening Photographers. […]

  27. Lava Kafle says:

    Yeah really bad inhumane