With more than two decades of police experience under his belt, you would think Tucson police officer Bobby Nielsen would be able to conduct his job without being distracted by a mere camera flash.
Especially when he’s shining a powerful flashing into the photographer’s lenses.
But then again, with more than two decades of police experience, Nielsen has learned to manipulate the truth to his advantage, which is what he tried to do last week when snatching two cameras out of a man’s hands after claiming he was blinded by the flash.
The incident left Raymond Rodden hospitalized with a whiplash injury to his neck, an official diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy, a result of Nielsen yanking the camera so hard that the camera strap left him with a herniated disc.
The truth is, Rodden did not discharge the flash because he was recording video on a Canon G15 and an iPhone. The flash becomes inoperable on the Canon when shooting video and while it’s technically possible to use the flash while recording with the iPhone (read comments), it may require another set of hands to do it while holding a camera in each hand.
Besides, the argument is stupid because even if he did use the flash, it would not have been illegal to do so and it would not have been enough to blind the cop who was standing ten feet away as Rodden was trying to record another cop conducting a DUI investigation behind him (see image below).
The “blinded by the flash” routine is a time-honored lie among cops who arrest photographers, preceding the more recent “camera could be a gun” routine. It was slipped into the reports the first two times I was arrested for photographing cops as a way to further justify the charges against me and it was used to justify the arrest against a New York Times photographer in 2012.
But the latter example ended up leading to an indictment against New York City police officer Michael Ackerman last year for fabricating reports where he is now facing up to seven years in prison when it was revealed that Robert Stolarik’s camera did not even have a flash, a case that is still pending.
“It is my understanding that the officer refused to take a plea and that a trial is scheduled to begin in the next few months,” said Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.
Prior to snatching Rodden’s cameras, Nielsen spent several minutes shining his flashlight at him, essentially blinding him, giving him the following warnings:
“If that flash goes off, I own that camera.”
“It’s going to be in my eyes, it’s going to interfere and cause me safety issues, do not let that flash go off.”
And this is a guy who spends his shift riding a motorcycle, having to deal with wind, dust, bugs and no telling what else going into his eyes. This is a guy who is liar; a manipulator; a fabricator of the truth. The evidence is in the video above.
After snatching his two cameras, Nielsen made no attempt to arrest Rodden, instead taking the cameras to the other cops where they conferred for 30 minutes before deciding that they did not have enough evidence to charge him with a crime.
After he was released from the hospital, he started to record another traffic stop where an Arizona Department of Safety police officer assured him he had every right to do so.
And we should probably start carrying around powerful flashlights to shine right back at the lying cops who are interfering with our right to record.
Contact the Tucson Police Department at 520-791-4444.