Ignorance of the Law is no excuse?

A story of a police officer in Tennessee who falsely arrests a citizen for taking his picture, telling him that it is illegal to do so.

A Johnson County sheriff’s deputy arrested Scott Conover for unlawful photography.

“He says you took a picture of me. It’s illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer,” said Conover.

Conover took a picture of a sheriff’s deputy on the side of the road on a traffic stop. Conover was stunned by the charge.

“This is a public highway,” said Conover.

And it was not a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy as Tennessee code states. The deputy also asked Conover to delete the picture three times.

“He said if you don’t give it to me, you’re going to jail,” said Conover.

*****

The American Civil Liberties Union would not comment on Conover’s case without fully reviewing the allegations, but told us there is no law that prohibits anyone from taking photographs in public areas, even of police. Taking photos is protected by the First Amendment. Conover is ordered to appear in a Johnson County court on August 6th.

Ash Blog Durbatuluk has strong opinions:

There is no excuse — none — for officers of the law to behave in this sort of illegal, bullying, rights-trampling fashion. As a free society, we simply cannot tolerate it.

It’s not just about the ability for citizens to take pictures of police officers in public places (though that’s important too; see: King, Rodney). It’s about the officer’s behavior — specifically his attempt to bully this man into compliance with an illegal demand, using his power as an officer of the law in the service of his personal pique, at the expense of the citizenry that he is supposed to “serve and protect.” It is absolutely, totally and completely unacceptable for police officers to use the authority conferred by their badges to violate people’s rights in this manner, and society needs to send that message loud and clear.

Unfortunately, this is something that probably isn’t an unusual occurrence.

There was the case of the RCMP officers in Dawson Creek attempting to confiscate two hunter’s rifles because they had their own version of safe storage laws. Then fairly recently a Kelowna man returning from the local range had his rifle confiscated by an RCMP officer who had a similar (and wrong), interpretation of the law.

In the British Columbia cases I doubt if the actions of the officers were vindictive, but regardless, they didn’t know what the law was, invented their own version of the law and then of course became defensive when told that they were wrong in their knowledge of the law.

Unfortunately if you are ever caught in this type of situation you’re pretty well hooped. The power lies with the one that wears the uniform.

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