Texas cops prohibit photography, forbid the filing of complaints against them
Cop tells photographer that he is not even allowed to photograph the sidewalk (Photo by Gordon Haire)
Gordon Haire, a former newspaper reporter and former police officer, was sitting at a table on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston when he snapped a photo of a university police officer strolling towards him.
Officer Tim Wilson walked up to him and told him it was against the law to photograph the Galveston National Laboratory. He called it a security threat.
Haire had not photographed the laboratory. In fact, the laboratory is so top secret that only a Google search will reveal its true appearance.
Nevertheless, Haire called Wilson on his bullshit and said he didn’t believe him.
Sensing the impending terrorist threat from the 66-year-old man, Wilson asked for Haire’s identification.
But having lost his drivers license, Haire was only able to produce a Medicare card (he had arrived by bus for a doctor’s appointment).
The cop then asked for his full name and date of birth, then relayed that information to a dispatcher through his collar microphone in a loud voice that embarrassed Haire to passer-byers.
“He’s giving me a hard time,” the cop said to the dispatcher, according to Haire.
The cop finally left, but not before informing Haire that it was illegal to even photograph the sidewalk.
Intending to file a complaint, Haire walked into the UTMB Police Department the following day but was told he needed to produce a photo ID, which he did not have.
Despite his protests, he was ushered out of the station.
Then he contacted the Galveston Daily News, whom he worked for in the late 1970s. And they contacted some flacks who acknowledged that the cops violated departmental policy by denying Haire the right to file a complaint.
The UTMB chief was then forced to call Haire and apologize as well as invite him in to file his complaint.
But the flack was just as clueless as the cop when it came to photographers rights. Keep in mind the state-funded campus is public property.
“The National Institutes of Health has asked us to discourage photography of this particular facility because agents are kept there,” Canright said. “It’s not the same as prohibiting photographs there.”
The medical branch has a policy that requires anyone photographing the lab to first notify media relations for approval.
“As a matter of course, photos both external and internal of the (lab) are strictly prohibited,” the policy states.
Also clueless are the majority of commenters on the Daily News article, who are taking the typical apologist attitude.
Below is Haire’s complaint in its entirety (with his address and phone number deleted).
To: John T. Slettebo,
University of Texas System
Director of Police
From: Gordon Haire
Re: Formal Complaint against the police chief and three officers at the UTMB Galveston Police Department
The Island Transit bus arrived at UTMB more than an hour before my 8AM doctor’s appointment, so I brought my camera along to pass the time. I photographed the sidewalk that runs west from the Children’s Hospital, then sat at a table in the seating area on the west side of the Children’s Hospital.
Shortly after 7:00AM on Tuesday 7 July 2009, I was confronted by UTMB police officer Tim Wilson as I sat there. I had photographed him as he walked toward me at 7:03AM, apparently speaking into his collar microphone. Officer Wilson informed me that I could not photograph a building that he referred to as the National Laboratory. He stated that it was a secure building, and against the law to photograph.
I told him that I did not believe him. (I am fairly certain that no such law exists, and there were no signs prohibiting photography.) I also stated that police officers have been hassling photographers for years for no good reason. I mentioned that his security concerns were stupid since anyone with a cell phone camera or a cheap point & shoot could take all of the photos they wanted without him noticing.
Officer Wilson then demanded identification. I would normally have refused the demand, since he had no legal authority nor probable cause to question me, and definitely had no right to demand identification. Not wanting to be late for my appointment, I showed him my Medicare card (My driver’s license had been lost). He asked my date of birth, and I told him. Officer Wilson then Spoke my name and date of birth into his collar microphone, as though I were a common criminal. He then said into his microphone, “He’s giving me a hard time.” Officer Wilson then walked away, telling me that I could not even photograph the sidewalk running in front of the building.
After my doctor visit, I went home and found photographs and virtual tours of the facility on the UTMB’s website and on UTMB’s Flickr gallery. http://www.flickr.com/photos/utmb/2888124509/
http://www.utmb.edu/GNL/ You can also get good views on Google Earth. My camera could hardly be considered a threat to national security.
I called the UTMB Police Department, and asked to speak to the police chief. I was told that he office, and asked what I wanted to talk to him about. I told her that I wanted to file a formal complaint against a UTMB police officer. She said that she would give the message to the chief. Acting Lt. Donald Washington called me and asked what I wanted. I stated that I wanted to know the proper procedure for filing a formal complaint about Officer Wilson’s actions. Lt. Washington asked for details of the incident, then said that he would talk to the officer, and would get back to me. I repeated my request for the proper procedure for filing a formal complaint. “You have to come in and fill out a lot of paperwork,” he said. After stalling me for most of the day, Lt. Washington told me to come to the police department at 8AM the next morning. After I arrived, Sgt. Anthony Curry asked me for a photo ID. I told him that I had none. “You can’t file a complaint against a police officer without a photo ID.”
“Yes I can,” I replied.
He said that he would check, and quickly returned to the room, saying that I could not file without a photo ID.
I was then ushered out.
Officer Tim Wilson’s actions were those of a misinformed, overzealous law enforcement official who deserves a written reprimand placed permanently in his file, and education into the rights of photographers. (basically that photographers should be treated no differently than non-photographers.)
Lt. Donald Washington and Sgt. Anthony Curry should be fired for failing to follow police department policy on accepting complaints against police officers, for conspiring to deny me my constitutionally guaranteed right to petition the government, and for denying me the constitutionally guaranteed right to petition the government.
Police Chief Charles Brown should also be fired if Washington and Curry committed these acts with his advice and consent. Since my initial call to the department was for him to advise me on proper procedure, and Lt. Washington returned my call, I can only assume that Washington was the chief’s representative in this matter.
Wilson, Washington and Curry violated the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, and also violated their solemn oath of office.
No one should be treated like a criminal by overzealous policemen who abuse their authority and infringe upon our constitutional rights. Ever since 9/11, law enforcement officials have gone to ridiculous lengths in their so-called War on Terror, and have used it as an excuse to circumvent the Constitution of The United States, in spite of the fact that each and every one of them has sworn a solemn oath to uphold and defend that constitution.
When law enforcement personnel are allowed to limit our freedom in the name of security, then the terrorists have already won. When security becomes more important than Liberty, America is no longer the Land of the Brave and Home of the Free.
I have downloaded the official complaint form. To whom should I mail them? It is obvious that the UTMB Galveston Police Department will not accept it, and cannot be trusted.