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Still not having finalized the $250,000 settlement for deleting a man’s images from his phone, the Baltimore Police Department continues to harass and intimidate photographers, including a photojournalist from the Baltimore Sun last month who was trying to photograph the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting.

Obviously, they would rather not let the image of a man shot by police make it into the newspaper.

But they once again opened themselves up to liability by shoving photo editor Chris Assaf away from the crime scene tape, where he had every right to be, while allowing countless other citizens who were merely watching to remain behind the tape as evidenced in the last sentence of this story.

However, another Sun photographer, Lloyd Fox, managed to photograph the bullying, posting the images on their news site, revealing a fascinating sequence of photos showing Assaf and the cop coming to a head-to-head standstill in the middle of the street.

Very impressive effort from Assaf.  I wonder if he switched any of his cameras to video mode to capture the verbal exchange.

According to the Baltimore Sun:

While photographing outside the police tape — which marked the established perimeter — an officer told him he would have to move across the street. Assaf protested, stating he was outside the established perimeter of the crime scene and he had every right to photograph from where he was standing.

While asking for the officer’s name, a second police officer grabbed Assaf and began pushing him across the street. Assaf on numerous occasions requested that the officer release him, saying that his rights were being violated. Baltimore Sun photographer Lloyd Fox witnessed and documented the scene. Baltimore Police said they are investigating the allegations.

If this were an isolated incident caused by one overzealous police officer, it might be possible to look past it. But, as I wrote in the 2012 blog post, there seems to be a misconception among some police officers and others in authority that they can stop not only the press but anyone taking pictures or recording police activity at a crime scene.

The good news is that a mainstream media publication is willing to admit this was not “an isolated incident,” which is generally the attitude they take when one of their photographers gets harassed in order to not ruin their professional relationship with the cops.

But relationships work both ways. If one side disrespects the other, the other side should not hesitate to call them out on it.

Besides, Baltimore police have such a sordid history of violating the rights of photographers that the United States Department of Justice issued them a set of guidelines in 2012 they must follow. But we haven’t heard much from the USDOJ since.

The Sun interviewed the president of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police, so he gave the customary spin as agreeing that we do have the right to record cops, but that sometimes the videos don’t tell the whole story – neglecting to acknowledging that many times, police reports don’t tell the whole story, which is why we should record every interaction with police. 

One cop who didn’t bother with the usual spin was Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson, whose officer was caught on camera last month pushing and shoving a videographer, telling him he had “lost” his freedom of speech.

“The words of and demands to cease filming by sworn personnel and citizen volunteer auxiliary officers were incorrect, inappropriate and unnecessary,” Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said in a statement. “They were not helpful in bringing this incident to closure. As we already have stated, all aspects of this encounter are under investigation, and all personnel will be held accountable for their actions.”

In fact, Johnson placed the officer on unpaid administrative leave. But then again, the cop was an auxiliary officer, meaning he simply volunteers as an officer, so maybe he was trying to earn himself a paid position.

We will never know because as critical as Johnson was of the officer’s actions, he never did release his name, which is important for us to keep a track record of officers in case they become habitual offenders. No different than what they do to us.

So remember, next time you get harassed for recording on the streets, do your best to ask the officer’s name, which is usually required under departmental policy.

But be forewarned. Cops don’t like it when you ask their names so many times they will arrest you, telling you their name will be included in the arrest report.