On March 12, 2015, in a letter address to “All Officers, Emergency Operations”, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Deputy, M.D. Rueda, notified LAFD staff members that people have the right to record/photograph them as well as patients receiving medical treatment.
That memo went ignored a few months later by two members of Station 29 (including one captain) who took it upon themselves to encroach on my First Amendment rights, harass me and falsely tell me that I was violating HIPAA law because I exercised my constitutional right to take pictures on a public street.
The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects the privacy of medical records in most circumstances, but has been routinely abused by paramedics ordering citizens to stop recording in public when treating citizens in full view of the public eye.
Rueda’s advisory stated:
In a public setting, anyone is legally allowed to photograph and/or record our members at work.
There are no laws to speak of that prevent the public from filming LAFD activities, including EMS responses, so long as the person recording the event is on their own or public property…
Rueda also addressed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) — which was embarrassingly misspelled HIPPA in his directive — and confirmed that the law doesn’t apply to people taking pictures on a public street.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), which we honor and are bound, has no provision to preclude filming by the public.
So based on the Rueda’s March 12 email, you would think that members of the Los Angeles Fire Department would be well aware of a person’s right to take pictures in public space and respect that right.
But none of that mattered on June 13 when I was photographing a friend whom I’ve known for more than five years who had had also given me permission to photograph her while receiving medical treatment.
However, the LAFD captain still said, “No.”
Like he was some kind of almighty despot who granted himself the authority to revoke my right to take pictures on a public sidewalk.
Seriously, what kind of tax-funded worker thinks he has the right or the authority to dictate what a person can and can not not do on a public sidewalk? Is this a personnel issue? Or this a problem emblematic of LAFD culture and training?
Moreover, why does this captain think he can spread false information, or even worse, intentionally lie about the HIPAA law to a citizen in order to get them to comply to their unlawful demands?
What was the captain’s objective that day? Was it to actually protect my friend’s non-existing privacy on a public street? Or did he really just intend to protect LAFD staff members and stop me from photographing them?
I don’t know but each week I’m forced to hand over 35 percent of my hard earned money, so these men and their families can eat and live off their very exuberant salaries in their nice houses while enjoying their publicly funded lifetime health care and pensions.
So when I go out to exercise my First Amendment rights, I want LAFD staff to remember that their job is a privilege and that they need to respect my rights and obey actual law when I decide to stand on a public sidewalk and a take a picture.
YOUR RESPONSE TIMES ARE QUESTIONABLE, BUT YOUR TIMING IS IMPECCABLE
After posting the LAFD harassment video to YouTube on June 15, the LAFD Community Liasion Office just happened to send out a notice the following day (the coincidental timing is suspect), reiterating the fact that HIPAA law does not apply to people taking pictures/video recording in public space.
No member shall tell such individuals that taking pictures/shooting video is a violation of HIPAA, as it is not.
Despite the original notice being three months old, it’s nice to know that my video forced LAFD command staff to remind its personnel that people have the right to take pictures in public and they should not be harassed.
Private individuals and media, including photo/video journalists, are not required to comply with HIPAA. Any individual who is taking pictures and/or shooting video of an LAFD incident in progress is within their rights to do so…
However, getting LAFD staff members to respect Constitutional rights and their own policies is clearly another issue.
WILL HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?
Beyond that, Reuda’s letter and the subsequent June 16 follow up to staff members raises some concerns.
The Los Angeles Fire Department seems to be clinging to the idea that a patient, or someone receiving medical treatment in a public space has a right to privacy, and it’s referred to many times in Reuda’s advisory:
Such postings demonstrate the need to put measures in place for our members to better address issues impacted by public filming. These issues include: scene safety, patient privacy, and operational efficiency.
…Department members can and should take reasonable measures to protect the privacy and modesty of a patient.
I’m not sure where LAFD is going with this kind of language, but nobody in public, including LAFD and their “patients” has an expectation of privacy. Therefore, they can be photographed or video recorded.
It’s that simple and it’s the reason why Los Angeles residents are bombarded by government/LAPD surveillance. If you’re in public, you can be recorded or photographed.
So if you’re a tax-funded worker, get use to it because the public’s cameras are growing exponentially and the giant is slowing waking up to the lawlessness and unaccountability that permeates through our government entities.
If LAFD wants to protect someone’s privacy then they should put the patient inside the ambulance and transport them to the hospital. But even so, if the doors are left open, people can legally record the activity occurring inside the ambulance.
Also, if the doors are closed but people can see inside the ambulance through the windows, people can still photograph/record what they see. The Los Angeles mainstream media does it all the time and as we all know…press credentials do not grant extra rights.
Second, the Los Angeles Fire Department seems to think it can seek out and actively engage people taking pictures of them and their patients, and then guilt trip them into stopping. Their policy is broken down into a series of bullet points and includes the following:
• Ask the videographer/photographer to please not interfere with LAFD operations and to respect the privacy of the patient
Unless someone is actively interfering with LAFD operations; for instance, making physical contact with a paramedic, then LAFD staff should never communicate with a photographer/videographer simply because they’re recording. LAFD has no right to bully people with their personal viewpoints or “morals” simply because they don’t like the fact that someone is recording a “patient” on a public sidewalk.
It happened to me in my video and I didn’t appreciate LAFD guilt-tripping me and asking me how would I like it if someone was recording my family member receiving medical treatment.
Well, for the record I don’t mind.
I actually want people to record my family’s dealings with LAFD or LAPD because both entities can’t be trusted.
The proof is in my videos, as well as their collective histories.
Three, LAFD seems to think they can block a photographer’s view:
Shield the videographer/photographer’s view of patient or activity by creating a viewing obstruction (i.e., holding up sheets), but do not attempt to stop the filming by taking the camera or touching, pushing, or striking the videographer/photographer.
If an LAFD member actively seeks out a photographer and blocks his camera while ignoring non-recording citizens, this is arguably a prior restraint and could lead to a civil rights lawsuit. So someone within LAFD’s legal team needs to address this issue before they’re sued.
On the other hand, it is likely not a prior restraint if LAFD personnel huddled around a patient and hold up a sheet to block everyone’s view.
WHERE’S MY APOLOGY?
The whole LAFD frat-boy culture and their always-right, know-it-all attitude doesn’t work any more; and if they continue acting this way, then we’re just gonna see more videos of them acting like bullies showing up on the internet.
This LAFD captain was out of line, overstepped his authority, violated established LAFD policy, and stepped on my rights.
His behavior is unacceptable and LAFD owes me an apology.
However, I don’t think the department is capable of admitting they’re wrong. That’s just not how they operate.
I would also say these LAFD staff members are an embarrassment to the Los Angeles Fire Department
But I can’t since I have other videos that show LAFD harassing me for taking pictures of them in public space.
Sure the LAFD spin machine is very good at promoting its Pleasantville image, but my videos and its own history prove that that’s far from the truth (just Google LAFD corruption, response times, nepotism, recruits, testing, harassment, downtown Los Angeles stabbing, hazing, dog food, etc).
Oh, and if you’re ever in the Los Feliz area, make sure you swing by Station 35 on Hillhurst Ave. and photograph the many LAFD staff members’ personal vehicles blocking the public sidewalk surrounding the building. If you have a baby in a stroller, I suggest you take caution because you will be forced to walk in the street with your child.
The LAFD memos and my video are below.