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10/09/2009

"Interfering with traffic"

Rick Madonik, Staff Photographer

Accident, or crime scenes, are often emotional places. Understandably, people who find themselves at the centre of attention have a lot on their mind are not keen with the presence of the media. For the most part, police, ambulance and fire personnel are fine with media presence as long as we don’t interfere with the rescue, or investigation. There are times, when we (media) get closer then necessary and are told to move further back.

The following occurred a few days ago and details what transpired as I went about my duties as a photographer covering "spot" news.

Tuesday morning I came upon a newly developed accident scene. Progress along the Gardiner eastbound was stymied, mostly by one of the two vehicles. It was inverted and straddling the two left lanes. The other vehicle was stopped in the #1 lane, and an OPP court services van stopped immediately behind.

Rm_rollover01


I pulled my car out of traffic and grabbed cameras and attended the scene. I made a quick assumption the OPP van officers witnessed the accident and we’re now waiting for emergency response by local authorities. One OPP officer stood with the young female driver of the inverted car. She was visibly upset and was rubbing her neck.

The scene was rather calm and collected, so I began to photograph. With no real need to get in close with a wide angle lens, I stayed back and used my 70-200 zoom lens. Only a few frames were made with a wide angle.

Rm_rollover03


Toronto Fire was first to respond. I continued to shoot pictures with the longer lens affording a healthy gap of about 25 feet between myself and the firefighters as they began to immobilize the young woman’s neck. As they worked, and I photographed, I heard someone yell something, but it didn’t really register. The 2nd yell did register.

Rm_rollover04


Two officers from Traffic Services were arriving. One went toward the young woman and the care she was receiving, the other was coming directly at me and telling me to stop taking pictures. I waved my lanyard of credentials at him and told him I was from The Star and continued to shoot more pictures.

He wasn’t impressed, nor did he seem to care. Although the initial exchange included the term "buddy," it was clear from his demeanor nothing friendly was being communicated.

He demanded I stop taking pictures and return to my car.

Rm_rollover05


I declined his offer and began a dialogue with the young officer. I asked what the issue was since I was well away from the scene and was not impeding the care being given. He continued to demand I leave the scene, but had to real explanation other then "this is my scene" and he wanted me gone from it.

There was no imminent danger. I was NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, hindering medical attention. I was not contaminating the scene (I was physically ahead of the scene). I wasn’t interfering with traffic.


I’ve been doing this job long enough to know what "rights" are accorded to the gathering of news. I could see no justifiable reason for issuing such a command.

The officer then threatened to give me a ticket for parking on the highway if I didn’t return to my car and leave immediately. I declined to leave and he asked for my licence.
When I asked why he wanted my licence, he said he was going to issue me a ticket. As I gave him my ID, I then demanded his name, badge, and the name of the duty Sergeant. (He did provide the information I wanted.)

The officer then began to talk to the OPP officer (from the van) and then the uninjured driver of the 2nd vehicle. I purposely took a few more pictures to document the fact he furthered his accident investigation.

He didn’t like that either.

He again yelled at me to stop photographing and walked back towards me and demanded I "sit in your car or I’ll charge you criminally." This, I must admit, infuriated me. His threats to charge me were absolutely unjustified. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, I’ve been threatened with such a charge. The most common charge journalists, at such scenes, are threatened with is obstruction of justice. Its far more common then you might think. I would estimate, in the course of my work career, I’ve been threatened dozens of times.

Rm_rollover07


I steadfastly REFUSED to do as he commanded. He again ordered me to my car and reasserted the threat.

"WITH WHAT?" I yelled back at him, wanting to know what "criminal" charge he would invoke. He didn’t answer, simply restated to wait in my car, and he walked away.

About this time the ambulance rolled up. As the young woman was put on a gurney and taken away I elected to not shoot any frames, even though I believe I was well within my rights to do so. But there was no need to escalate the situation any further. My assignment editor was made aware of what was transpiring on my end, and I now waited for my ID to be returned.

Within a few minutes of the ambulance leaving, the officer returned my licence and produced a Offence Notice to me. The set fine is $50 ($65 with surcharge). The violation; interfere with traffic.

I did indeed call the officers' immediate supervisor to make him aware of what I experienced earlier. I expressed to him my dismay. I made it clear to him in my 25 years of working as a news photographer, and having been on numerous scenes near identical to this, I had NEVER received a ticket under such circumstances. I also relayed to him I found his officer’s conduct less then professional.

I don’t think this particular situation could have been handled differently. His immediate command to me to vacate the scene without bothering to find out if I had any legitimate reason for being there, caused me to defend my work and my right to be there.

Sadly, I think I got a ticket because he felt he had to follow through with something. I think a more practical resolution would have been to reevaluate his position once he discovered I was, in fact, a member of a legitimate news gathering operation.

That didn’t happen.

I got a ticket.

Guess I’ll see him in court.

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I have a feeling this is one officer who needs additional training and mentoring. Perhaps he prefers The Sun.

Similar case in Sydney last week where a female lawyer riding on a train was arrested by a cop who [mistakenly] thought she was taking her picture and said she was in breach of terrorism laws. Cops never explained what law had been broken, and were not investigated or reprimanded, despite a court finding this was a wrongful arrest.

http://www.smh.com.au/national/compensation-for-lawyer-after-wrongful-arrest-20091005-gjfk.html

Yes, you legally had every right to be there, I agree with that.

Maybe the officer, perhaps being a father himself of a young son or daughter, didn’t want this young female’s experience photographed and published (as you have done). A distraught girl crying on the side of the highway after an accident isn’t “news”; I guess you weren’t able to recognize that.

Chris - it is still photojournalism. That is what photojournalists do. They take a pic, whether the situation is "good" or not.

About the cop - he obviously didn't had any rights to stop you from shooting, This is the common problem with an accidents and cops. I wonder why they don't like to get shots.

btw. I like the 1st photo.

Do you not have to ask people's permission to take their picture? I've been in a few situations that received media coverage over the years, and I've always been asked or warned before my picture was taken. If you don't have to ask permission, what can I do to spare myself the humiliation of my picture being splashed all over the paper and website if I should ever find myself in a situation where I'm weeping by the side of the road?

Also, I notice the car's licence plate is clearly visible. I've noticed in some other contexts (off the top of my head, car ads and Google Street View, and I know I've seen it elsewhere) the licence plates are blurred or obscured. I don't know why they hide them in the first place, but apparently it's important. What are the rules for this?

MM, i don't those rules apply to photojournalists, especially ones that work for newspapers. When you see photographers asking they're typically doing it because they want a model release.

From what I understand, he is a photojournalist which entitles him to freedom of the press rights http://www.uottawa.ca/constitutional-law/expression.html

I think you can ask to not have your photo taken, but that usually doesn't prevent them from shooting away. Just ask any celebrity.

Rick, I'm just curious to know how this ended or will end.
Have you gone to court yet? Is a date set?

Cheap shot.
Even members of the Sun, and I'm one, get threatened on a regular basis.
Indeed, one of our staffers suffered a concussion when he was knocked over by RCMP during the Olympic torch run.
Everyone has the right to take a picture in public. In a situation like a highway, media stopping to record an incident, traffic or criminal, is not unusual. I would venture to say it's expected.
Rob Lamberti
Toronto Sun

The unfortunate trend in modern law enforcement is the rise of the "respect the badge, no matter what" attitude. Law enforcement officers are human and as such, they make mistakes. The badge does not make them superhuman. This particular constable should pay for his. If I were in your shoes, I would file a formal complaint against him. While an individual complaint is unlikely to have any immediate effects, constables who err frequently will have a pile of them from outraged community members, on their records and eventually some sort of action will be taken by the service.

You put your nose in a place where it's not wanted and you get what's coming at you. Too bad you felt you had every right to be "there" since you flashed the officer your "pass". You had your few shots and you were asked to leave and you didn't. In life, you're not entitled to anything. Just remember that, pass or not.

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