For too many cops and security guards, the enemy wields a camera.
This is a crock. There's no law in California or anywhere else in the U.S. that prohibits shooting such places from a public locale. You can even photograph inside airports, if you don't point your camera at security checkpoints.
"These laws just don't exist," explains McKinniss's attorney, Robert Myers, who took his case pro bono. "A law that attempts to prohibit photography from places open to the general public would be unconstitutional."
Yet sworn police officers and rent-a-cops alike are routinely hounding people who are completely within their rights to take pictures in supposedly sensitive areas, as well as in a growing number of places unrelated to national security.
"This is just one of a number of examples across the country of law enforcement violating the constitutionally protected civil rights of photographers," Myers declares.
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McKinniss says the police made him sit cross-legged on the cold concrete and told him he had to wait until an intelligence officer arrived, according to the suit. They interrogated him, demanded his class syllabus, asked him if he was a terrorist, rummaged through his fanny pack without permission, shot several photographs of him, and inked his right thumbprint. They never touched his camera. After the 20-minute shakedown, they left. As he drove away, one cop said over the loudspeaker, chillingly, "Thanks, Jim."
Now McKinniss wonders if his virtual mug shot, thumbprint, and personal information are in some counterterrorism database somewhere. (That's not paranoia: New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority reportedly keeps such a secret database of the photographers who have been stopped and questioned by officers on the subways and around bridges.) His suit asks for damages and demands that all of the information the police collected that night, including photos and fingerprints, be deleted from law enforcement dossiers.
In a preliminary hearing on January 24, 2006, U.S. District Judge George King told McKinniss's lawyer he would likely succeed on the legalities, called the cops' behavior that night "disturbing," and told Torrance's attorney, "Maybe you folks need to better educate your officers."
Robert Acciani, the Torrance deputy city attorney representing the city and police, says the officers deny most of the allegations. "Ten years ago [McKinniss] might not have gotten a second look, but after 9/11 that's changed," he says. "The officers were professional. They didn't tell him what he was doing was illegal, and they didn't tell him to get out of town."