In response to a man photographing a prison from a public sidewalk, Hamilton County police officers conducted an illegal search of the photographer’s car and illegally ran his information through the Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID).
It was none other than PINAC investigative reporter Jeff Gray.
“I just have to verify who you are,” claimed Deputy Thomas as Gray lawfully refused to hand over identification after the officers stated he was not being detained.
Because Gray refused to provide ID, Deputy Thomas felt he could illegally search Gray’s car to obtain his identity, which he did by reaching up for the raised trunk of Gray’s vehicle and lowering it to read the plate. Deputy Thomas then illegally ran Gray’s tag through the DAVID system, an act which law enforcement in Florida have illegally perpetrated close to 300 times.
On the same day, Gray also photographed a prison in Suwannee County, Florida, and received a drastically different response. While police were also called by Florida Department of Corrections officials, the officer who turned up immediately recognized that Gray was committing no crime in taking photos from a public sidewalk, and let him be.
One week earlier, Gray visited a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia, and met with an even more severe reaction. Two Department of Homeland Security agents showed up and mentioned that Gray might be conducting terrorism before one of the DHS agents reached for his firearm.
Gray’s “terrorist” act of taking photos from a public sidewalk – photos easily obtained from Google Earth – somehow merited the need for a gun in the mind of at least one DHS agent. When Gray lawfully refused to provide identification – as he was not being detained – the DHS agents threatened to call the FBI and local police.
The local police did in fact show up, and as in Suwannee County, immediately recognized that Gray had done nothing wrong and was free to go on his way.
The final score: two authoritarian police units that aggressively made up law and tried to intimidate a photographer, and two well-trained police units that respect the public’s First Amendment right to take photographs in public.
That’s progress, people.