[Video] Pennsylvania Photographer Versus The Law

Some of you may remember the post from a few weeks ago titled Photographer Vs. Security: The Ultimate Showdown. Well, it looks like yet another photographer has been harassed and decided to make light of the situation. Jason Macchioni, a Pennsylvania-based photographer, had a run in with police in his area and as is par for the course these days, tempers flared.

Macchioni was making a timelapse video on an overpass near his hometown when suddenly a few officers arrive on the scene to question him. Everything appears to be civil until backup arrives, and then everything goes downhill from there. Macchioni knows his rights and stands his ground, which definitely bothers these officers. Eventually, they find out Macchioni is recording the dialogue - and that's when it begins to get heated.

Just what, exactly, are law enforcement and security officers around the world afraid of? What will it take to put an end to this behavior? It seems the mentality is that if photographs are taken of public areas, the terrorists will win. Macchioni's full description of the event and his thoughts can be seen below the embedded video.

I was shooting a time-lapse which I'm still working on, I arrived at this site around 9 and was there for about 3 hours until these two cops rolled up! At first I was calm and refused to give ID, After the second cop was breathing down my neck and really threatening me. I gave in and tried to get them to leave. Then stuff got heated.

The first officer (Charles Tobias) was nice but just couldn't grasp what I was doing after 4 explanations, He started to become angry when backup arrived, I guess so his fellow cop knew he was tough and could handle me? I gave him my ID even though I knew I didn't have to, to try to make them leave asap, After the second cop (Cleland) notice I was recording become very upset, I guess he doesn't like evidence when he breaks laws and infringes on a citizens rights. He also told me his dash cam and microphone was NOT on. Which I think you must have that on a call like this?

Officer (Harry Cleland) starting saying off camera that "if he wanted to hurt me he would have just came up and did it and stomped my phone and beat me up if he wanted too". I told the officers I wanted to record to protect my self cause a lot of people being "mistreated" by the police. The officer (Celand) said well that's mostly the "blacks" fault, People getting beat up.

He does not know Pa Wiretapping laws at all and my right to record! I have run into this cop before, I was shooting a car accident and this cop said 'If you don't leave, I'm going to confiscate your camera". So now I know he has a record of violating citizens rights!

After the video stops, He (Cleland) went on a rant about people recording cops and thinking "they" know the law and about him thinking "black people are the problem, cause of drugs and crime". They left I took a breath and checked my phone, My heart sank further knowing it didn't catch-all of it. It did catch one thing, Him (Cleland) threatening to arrest me for recording him. Which is against the law, Harry Cleland

These Cops need to learn the law when it comes to photographers, and I can't wait for my public apology.

Have you had a run-in with law enforcement while out shooting? What are your thoughts on these situations that seem to occur every other week? What will it take to see a change in perspective on the behalf of law enforcement? It is proving to be much more difficult than we ever imagined to spread the word that we're not out to disturb the peace, we just want to make some creative videos or photos.

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Dave Wallace's picture

This is ridiculous. I've been in the identical situation. Cops showed up when I was shooting a timelapse off a bridge at night. They had reports that there might be a sniper (because of the camera) and came to investigate. Instead of immediately getting in their face and being a dick, I answered the questions they had and ended up having a great conversation while my timelapse was finishing up. They actually smiled for a picture afterwards so I could post the story on Twitter.

The problem here isn't the cop, it's the guy that disrespecting cops that could have showed up to the scene expecting something much worse. That cop was calm and is trained to call in backup when somebody gets aggravated. 

Why don't you just show him your ID and let him be on his way. If he tries to kick you off the bridge THEN show off your knowledge of laws.

Have to agree with Dave, why not try it the calm way? If you aren't doing anything wrong why don't you want to give him your ID? Yes, have to admit, some cops are really stupid and don't even know which side of pen is used for writing. But that isn't any reason for not showing your ID.

In Czech republic you have to show your ID to a police officer who's asking for it. If you won't do it, you're breaking the law. In many situations a win for photographer doesn't have to be a optimal win. They might arrest you for any reason they might think of, even you not willing to get arrested and you might spend few hours in jail. Finding a compromise might, not saying it will in each and every time, save you a lot of time and will save you trouble with law.

Photographer is a job. Also police officer is a job. Both of you were doing your part but you have to realize one thing. Photographer cannot win. If there will be a quarrel with a cop, he calls backup and they'll escort you to jail. After some time you'll be set free but is it worth it? You are out there to make images so do your part and let other people to do their own.

Some thoughts Dave .... why should he show the ID if the law does not require it (law on his side) yet if asked to leave the bridge, it is at that point he can claim the law is on his side?

Why the inconstancy?

That's the problem with cops in the USA. They don't realize that they're there to defend the rights of citizens granted by the constitution.  You don't have to show ID. ANY further harassment by the police is their own doing.  If they have no probable cause to suspect the person is breaking the law, they're supposed to leave them alone.

Refusing to show ID is exercising your rights as a citizen.

By your logic if the cops had asked him to stop doing what he was doing he should just have stopped even though he was lawfully allowed to take photos.  By your logic I should do what ever a cop asks me to do even if it violates my civil rights.  If a white cop pulls me over without reason want to search my vehicle -  because I'm black I should asset my civil right jbecause the cop might arrest my ass and toss me in jail as for being black and suspicious.

Unfortunately racism is a big problem not just in USA. On the other hand if he cannot understand what I'm doing I'll show it to him. Almost everybody in photography has an iPad, iPhone or some other device that they carry with them and can show his work. If cop won't get it even after this, there is no hope for him to understand anything. Might not even see a difference between a pig and chicken.

Then I'd stand up for my rights and if something like this happens, I might call police on my own.

Good for you you showed an ID you didn't have to and the point isnt that he should have handled it better its that the Cops should have handled it better. Once they ascertained he was photographing the traffic an not breaking the law the cops had nothing further to do there. 
The insistent thug I would not use the term cop to describe him after escalates and persists simply because his attempt to be authoritarian was challenged. 

Ive had both types of run ins with the police and unfortunately it isnt a matter of how you act its all about does the officer have the brains

Same here.  Hand him your ID, he'll run it while you keep shooting, and it's over.  Cops have been nothing but nice to me when I've been out late shooting.

David Arthur's picture

Just because you have the right to not show your ID, doesn't mean that you shouldn't. By not showing ID, I would have immediately became more suspicious of this photographer than when I walked up the first time. he could have showed the ID, let the cop realize that he is not wanted or commiting a crime or anything, and the cop would have left. The second cop would have never shown up because the first cop would have already left. I would not have a problem with a cop making sure I wasn't doing anything wrong and then leaving. He was just making sure his area was safe. But instead this guy was just a jerk. 

Dave really? suspicious of what TAKING A PHOTOGRAPH!!!!! obviously in your world a man with a camera is of course suspect of what ???? please help us fill in the blank.
or a cop according to you has the right to walk up to me to check me out for any criminal wrong doing because i am standing taking a photograph. Police are required by law to have an actually reasonable suspicion that you are in fact breaking the law before they can do as such. So your telling everyone that Mr office has reasonable suspicion that the photographer with about $2000 dollars worth of equipment is doing what exactly suspiciously.

The officer asked what he was doing he told him which was time lapse photgraphy the officer then continued to ask the stupidest question which is "Why", the photographers answer "Because I want to" the real answer is "Non of your business mr officer".

Lets be more blunt thug one was pegging the photographer as possibly a terrorist and didn't want to let go even though he obviously didn't have a clue.

Agreed. Seems the entire situation was avoidable. Good to know the laws and be able to protect yourself, but why provoke more of a scene than originally existed?

I don't live in the USA but I'm having the feeling that the Law enforcement officiers are the last ones who know something about the law!! (Maybe the only law they know is: I'm a cops and I do whatever I want!!) No seriously!! Where did they get those "so called" cops?!! 3rd Graders?! (With all respect to the "Real" Cops)
Any cops-photographers here?! What's wrong there?! We don't have those problems here in Germany (at least I never had problem with the Polizei)!!

Garrett Graham's picture

Bottom line is this is typical of too many cops these days. They are suspicious of everyone and respectful to no one. The guy should be allowed to do what is legally allowed and they should leave him the heck alone. If it looks like he might be doing something wrong they should stop and find out...when they have nothing to go on they should back off and leave the guy alone. At all times they should be respectful and assume the best unless it is pretty darn obvious they a crime IS being committed.

James Robertson's picture

the thing is the cop was trying to force him to do something that he had the right not to, if someone were to power trip like that to me I'd just stop talking, get arrested, take the story to the news, and get his ass fired.

I have to disagree with some above comments... It's no different than being in a public park in the middle of the day and a cop asking for your ID, cause you "look suspicious." That's not their responsibility to question people who look suspicious. It's to question someone breaking the law. If a cop questioned everyone who was suspicious looking then that would a pretty busy day for them. They should have known that he wasn't breaking the law and therefore wouldn't be any suspicion. This guy was totally in the right to refuse to show his ID. At one point the cop says, "show me your drivers license." If you aren't operating a car, you don't need a driver's license or a photo ID of any kind. This cop totally broke the law with every statement he threw out there.
Though the above statements about just "show him your ID and be nice" might avoid the situation getting worse it was only worse because of the cop's ignorance to the law. They believe that they have full right to do anything they want because they are cops, which is wrong. I think we are asking the wrong questions. It doesn't matter if the photographer was "rude" or angry toward the cops. It's not breaking the law to be rude or angry. It's the cops responsibility to know the law... which in this case they don't.

richardsonad's picture

Seems to me like this could have been avoided by just showing the guy your ID.  It sounded like he was trying to provoke a response.  I would have shown the ID first and then if they were still infringing your rights you at least have a case that you were trying to cooperate.

Sounds to me like your rights would never be violated if you would just waive them. Dummy!

It's true that the guy could have and probably should have been less rude. The question he could have asked when the officer asked for his ID was, "Am I being detained?" This would establish the legal status of the request. In some states a person that is detained is required to provide an ID. If the officer says that he is not detained then the photographer could have said, "If you don't mind I'm going to get back to my business. Have a nice day."

 I don't think that cop would react appropriate to the situation...

Seshan's picture

When ever I see these videos, they always say they where not doing anything wrong, Which is often true, but he was being a jackass, so the cops are going to just make it harder for you. The best way is just to do what they say unless it is really out of line. Showing you're ID is nothing, unless you have something to hid.

Demanding you showing ID is completely out of line, If it is not required by law.
and it is almost NEVER required by the law.

I also agree with those who think the police were ok (yeah, ok, they were a touch obnoxious): their job is to investigate suspicious behaviour. If they approach someone who IS doing the wrong thing and that person also refuses to show ID, should they walk away? Is that what we want? There's a fine line between wanting the police to be involved and keeping our person rights.

Personally I carry in my camera bag an info sheet regarding copyright law and photographer's rights in Australia. Now I shall go and investigate the laws regarding recording people's voices in a public place, and be sure to have that written documentation on me too. I often don't carry my personal ID but I usually have a business card. I really think this photog was being a teeny bit obnoxious; not the kind of behaviour that gets police to go away! 

This photographer is just causing his own dramas and a fricken moron they should have locked him up for being a dickhead. If he didn't give them an attitude and he learned to explain himself properly there wouldn't have been an issue instead of ranting about the law. Reverse situation it's like being a wedding photographer and Uncle Bob telling you how to shoot and  how to do your job I don't think anyone would respond positively. So don't be surprised how they respond when you start telling them you know the law. In my country it's law you have to tell them your name and address  when asked by an officer it should be there too seeing your country's crime rate is a lot higher and you have terrorist threats and occasional snipers shooting people this photographer just makes other photographers look bad. What a douche.

Way over the top there dreamy!  Just because YOUR country requires it, does not mean his does or has to.
I'd be curious to see how you would react if the 'authorities' searched your house just because you 'looked' suspicious?  

Your a retard. Searching your house? Are you a moron too?
Your comparing searching a house to someone asking you for you id. .
Way over the top there Coles! Just because MY country requires it, where did I say that theirs does? I said it should require it seeing there country is in a worse state then mine. Dumb ass.

As usual I see both sides here, and as usual I think simply stating 'I'm not doing anything wrong, I'm not breaking the law' isn't enough. Give them a bit more then that, don't be rude and it's all good. 
I do agree that if you give any rights, why don't you give away all of them? Standing for your rights isn't a crime, but I think many of these videos come from people who could handle it better.

Here's my problem, PA wiretapping laws require all parties to the conversations consent before recording can legally take place...

So technically the guy could've gotten arrested for taping all this without the officers' consent

JMaccPhotography's picture


 Kongmw, I read the article that you posted.  It states in the article if both parties have a reasonable reason for the conversation to be private, it is illegal. Since the altercation happened on public property, both parties do not have reasonable cause to believe that the conversation is private.  This same law was challenged in Maryland when a speeding motorcyclist posted a video on youtube.

Sorry wrong you should read the whole thing  "oral (face-to-face conversations where there is an expectation of privacy/non-interruption) " The police and the photographer are all in a public space therefor the law does not apply. More to the point any laws that prohibit you from photographing or videoing in public are no constitutional (US Law) with some very very narrow exceptions.