Los Angeles County has agreed to pay a $50,000 settlement and instruct sheriff’s deputies to respect First Amendment rights to photograph and record their activities, according to a statement released earlier this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the settlement on March 3, 2015, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and photographers Shawn Nee, Greggory Moore and Shane Quentin.
The settlement stems from a lawsuit the ACLU filed on behalf of the photographers in 2011. The suit alleged that L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies violated the photographers’ First and Fourth Amendment rights “by detaining, searching and questioning them for nothing more than taking photographs of Metro Rail turnstiles, oil refineries and traffic whizzing by a court house.”
In accordance with the settlement, the Los Angeles Count Sheriff’s Department delivered a letter to all LASD deputies, stating that “Department members are prohibited from interfering, threatening, intimidating, blocking or otherwise discouraging a member of the public, who is not violating any other law, from taking photographs or recording video (including photographs or video of police activities)…”
Moore was working as a reporter for the Long Beach Post, taking pictures on a public sidewalk for a story about traffic, when he was detained and searched by eight sheriff’s deputies.
LASD deputies detained Nee while he was photographing turnstiles on the Los Angeles Metro, “asking if he planned to sell the photos to al-Qaeda and threatening to put his name on the FBI’s ‘hit list,’” the ACLU SoCal noted in their announcement of the suit.
Quentin, who holds and MFA from University of California, Urvine was detained while photographing the lights of refineries in south Los Angeles.
In a statement about the settlement, ACLU SoCal executive director Hector Villagra called it “a victory for freedom of expression and could improve relations between deputies and the public they serve for years to come.”
The L.A. Weekly heralded the settlement with the headline “Photography Is No Longer A Crime In L.A.”
Still, it might behoove photographers working in L.A. to carry a copy of the LASD policy in their camera bags.