Amtrak photo contestant arrested by Amtrak police

Carlos Miller

Amtrak photo contestant arrested by Amtrak police in NYC’s Penn Station.

Armed with his Canon 5D and his new Lensbaby lens, photographer Duane Kerzic set out to win Amtrak’s annual photo contest this week, hoping to win $1,000 in travel vouchers and have his photo published in Amtrak’s annual calendar.

He ended up getting arrested by Amtrak police; handcuffed to a wall in a holding cell inside New York City’s Penn Station, accused of criminal trespass.

Kerzic says he was hardly trespassing because he was taking photos from the train platform; the same one used by thousands of commuters everyday to step on and off the train.

“The only reason they arrested me was because I refused to delete my images,” Kerzic said in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime on Friday.

“They never asked me to leave, they never mentioned anything about trespassing until after I was handcuffed in the holding cell.”

In fact, he said, the only thing they told him before handcuffing him was that “it was illegal to take photos of the trains.”

Obviously, there is a lack of communication between Amtrak’s marketing department, which promotes the annual contest, called Picture Our Trains, and its police department, which has a history of harassing photographers for photographing these same trains.

Not much different than the JetBlue incident from earlier this year where JetBlue flight attendants had a woman arrested for refusing to delete a video she filmed in flight while the JetBlue marketing department hosted a contest encouraging passengers to take photos in flight.

While the Amtrak contest page does state that trespassers are subject to arrest and fines, it also states that contestants must also stay in the “public access areas”, which describes the train platform because how else are passengers going to board the train?

As always, Amtrak reminds you to stay out of danger – stay away from tracks and the railroad right-of-way. Do not trespass on railroad property or on private property adjacent to the railroad. Do not climb or approach railroad structures, towers, or wires. Stay in public access areas, and away from railroad structures and moving equipment – in stations, on sidewalks, or in parking lots. All participants expressly release Amtrak from all liability for personal injury and loss or damage to personal property, and expressly assume the risk of harm. Remember, tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property – trespassers are subject to arrest and fines.

Also, according to a discussion on this same subject on a website called, the July 23, 2007 Amtrak weekly newsletter stated there is no prohibition against photography as long as one remains in the public access areas.

“Security: While there is no prohibition against taking
photographs of Amtrak trains, photographs may only be
taken in Amtrak’s public areas, not areas restricted by
signs, barriers or locked entrances. Non-public areas,
such as railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment,
are private property; trespassers are subject to arrest.”
-Amtrak This Week newsletter, 23JUL07

Furthermore, this same issue arose in Washington DC’s Union Station earlier this year when a TV news crew ended up interviewing a top dog from Amtrak to determine what is the actual policy on photography in train stations. The Amtrak official said that photography is allowed. Meanwhile, a security guard tried to shut the cameraman down.

That incident lead to US Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to demand clearer policies about photography from the companies that operated within Union Station.

Kerzic’s ordeal began Dec. 21 when he took the train from New Jersey into New York City and debarked at Penn Station. He snapped a photo of the train speeding away, then walked down the platform where he snapped several other photos. He continued taking photos as the platform emptied into Manhattan.

Then he casually walked towards the staircase to make his own way into the city. He stopped before the stairwell to tie his shoe.

When he stood back up, the cops were hovering over him. Two cops and a dog. A black lab with a nose for explosives.

“They asked what I was doing, I said I was taking photos,” he said.

“They said put your bag on the ground and let our dog sniff it.”

He complied and the dog confirmed he was carrying no explosives in his photo bag. Then they asked for his ID. Then to see the photos.

And then they ordered him to delete the photos.

“I said ‘absolutely not’,” said the 50-year-old navy veteran who describes himself as a “conservative republican”.

They told him it was illegal to photograph the trains.

“I asked where is the sign that says that,” he said.

That was when Amtrak police officer James Rusbarsky, badge Number 466, pulled out his handcuffs.

Kerzic said he immediately placed his hands behind his back, but Rusbarsky insisted on placing the handcuffs on him backwards.

“I asked him please put the cuffs on correctly, you’re hurting me, and he refused, tightening them instead,” he said.

Then they took him to the holding cell where they handcuffed him to a wall, and even then, they still slammed the door locked, in case he somehow broke free.

Kerzic said they never accused him of trespassing until after they had him handcuffed and placed in the cell. He believes they only came up with this charge after they realized there was no law in the books that stated that photography was illegal inside a train station.

“At no time did they tell me to leave the platform,” he said. “All they wanted me to do was delete my photos.”

Kerzic was released 90 minutes later with a citation for trespassing.

He has sent out letters complaining of the incident to everybody from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to New York Senator Hillary Clinton to everybody in between and above, including Amtrak officials, New Jersey Transit officials and even President Bush himself, in case he feels the urge to do some work before he leaves office next month.

He has also contacted a New York City lawyer who specializes in First Amendment cases and the National Press Photographers Association has also been in contact with him.

And he has been documenting his case on his website, including photos of his injured wrist and the various train platforms as well as the letters he has sent out.

Now he plans to return to Penn Station and photograph the cops who arrested him as well as continue taking photos for the Amtrak contest.

“If I win that contest, I would travel all over the country taking photos,” he said.

And if he wins the lawsuit, he may end up traveling all over the world.

UPDATE: Kerzic was awarded a settlement and was featured in a hilarious Colbert Report segment. The New York Times picked up the story as well more than a year later.


Citizen Journalism