NYPD Officer Beats Videographer, Should Photographers Be Wary?

Tempers flared, rights were infringed, and violence ensued. Videographer Shawn Thomas exchanged heated words with NYPD Officer Efrain Rojas resulting in a unwarranted beatdown and arrest. The 10 minute clip depicts how quickly the controversy escalated over a simple camera phone, which apparently cost Thomas a bloodied lip from the police officer.

Clearly, there is a lot of content to unpack from this clip. But among other things, what are the implications for street photographers. Officer Rojas acted rashly and unprofessionally. Obviously, debates can emerge from a variety of circles about what went wrong, but let’s consider what this means for those of us wielding cameras.

Watch the clip and see the extent to which Thomas knows his rights. Similarly, look at his Youtube channel and see all his content that he has posted; he isn't arbitrarily antagonizing police officers for some reaction he can capture on tape. He is shooting with a purpose and I believe that is what the NYPD strongly dislikes.

Consider the level of tourism that floods NYC streets on a daily basis. Collectively, those tourists have a purpose or aim in their photography, yet no one feels strongly enough to hit them. Simply put, Thomas is capturing content that the NYPD does not want to be shared. Why doesn't the NYPD want that type of publicity? Well, it’s certainly portraying the underbelly of the department’s management, policy, and above all else, abuse of authority.

I presume that many citizens are surprised to what lengths the NYPD will go in order to subdue the revealment of those intra-organizational issues. But from a photographer’s standpoint, if anything is worth noting, it’s the power of an image that one can create. Photographing with a purpose has its consequences. It’s just appalling to see how negative those can be, particularly in the Land of the Free.

Log in or register to post comments

pigs will be pigs.

EVERYONE should be "wary"...

This is what happens when you shoot video in portrait mode.


Why is this guy recording this?

Did you not read the article above?

He doesn't need a reason

Your opinion.

Not an opinion. A truth. You can record anything in public. Working decent sheeple follow the laws blindly. Smart people challenge the laws they're given when they don't agree with them. Arbitrary laws are the worst.

This is America. You have the Freedom to record anywhere you want that is public. End of Story.

NYC subway is not public land. It is private property, so he actually doesn't have the right to film it.

NYC transit has upheld the right of the public to photograph and film for non commercial use, the exception would be using a tripod, then commercial and non commercial alike need permission. The NYPD patrol guide is crystal clear as well when it comes to police being recorded, photographed or filmed. A police officer in the bronx was recently indicted by a grand jury for a similar occurrence, and is now facing trial. The basic bill of rights applies here. It is not negotiable.

The question is this: Would you rather live in a country where it is legal to photograph authority figures without censor, and thus inspires a few knuckleheads* to exploit that right for kicks, or live in a country where public monitoring of law enforcement is illegal, and thus removing a vital protection against possible corruption?

*this guy wasn't being a knucklehead, he saw something that interested him and he took pictures. That's why people take pictures.

So let's see: some guy in the NYC subway is recording video of "what exactly"? and then he is antagonizing a COP & cursing? What is his IQ? He deserves what he gets! Sorry. Why is he recording the other cop exactly? This is lack of common sense.

It doesn't matter why he was recording it. He was standing a considerable distance away and not disturbing the first officer. The second officer was standing in his face, and that would make anyone angry. He tried to step away from the officer and the officer stayed close to him. The officer also never warned him that he was going to be arrest or told him to put his hands behind his back. Sounds like a cop without common sense.

Ok, look, I can't find 1 single reason for him to record the other cop watching that bum....I would never, ever take out my camera and start shooting someone I don't know in the streets, and them not stop if I am asked to stop. That is the lack of common sense and frankly respect for another human being. (I am not pro street photography just we're clear), but regardless of my personal opinion, I still can't find one good reason for this guy to be recording the other cop....none what so ever, so as far as I am concerned all he did was to provoke that other cop...this could have been someone's father that this guy was recording; if someone starts recording my kids, my husband and I will both ask them to stop, and if they continue we might call the cops ourselves! I see zero reason for him to record what was going on.

Alexandra's Corner, You are missing the point! It does not matter the reason you are recording, but that fact that you are allowed to record public. It is awful that you compare this recording to photographing Children. The police are public figures and should be recorded.

I disagree; I think this was provoked, and the guy was literally looking for trouble. Why was he recording the other cop?

He is recording because he believe the nypd is corrupt and he is trying to capture it on film. this is am example of blatant abuse of power. Public figure should and can be videotaped. It is essential to our country survival the government remain transparent and this is obviously a form of censorship that we should not support.

We will agree to disagree on this one.

Something is deemed a "right" because it is so important that it must be protected even if it can be exploited for non-noble reasons. For the sake of argument, the guy in the video could have good or bad intentions, it just doesn't matter: Some police do bad things, and the presence of cameras acts as a deterrent, in the best case, and as vital evidence for corrective justice in the worst cases. If a public servant can't handle being in the sometimes unreasonable public eye, they shouldn't work in/for the public, because when you work for the public, there are rules, and the cop didn't follow them.

Is he a reporter? Is he on an new story assignment? Didn't sound like it...

He doesn't have to be a reporter. That doesn't matter. All that matters is it's a public place, and anyone - everyone - has the right to take pictures of people in a public place, as long as you don't touch them or make them fear for their safety. No cop has the right to feel "abused" or "disrespected" by such lawful activity. And the reason we have these rights is what makes us different from Putin's Russia or the Ayatolla's Iran.

Wait a minute..."no cop has the right to feel abused or disrespected"?? So, they shouldn't be treated with respect because they are not US citizens? I am sorry, but I don't condone the behavior and language used by the guy with the camera; he was rude, insulting, and had no reason to be either...the cop was doing his job. Why should anyone sit in a subway, assuming at night considering the foot traffic, and record stuff that cops do? Other than provoke an incident like this!

It's probably a waste of time to share this info with you, but others may benefit from it.

First: I asked nicely first, even saying "please", watch the video again.

Second: I was being kind by cursing him, because of

Third: I had a legal right, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, to self defense. I could have legally taken his life.

You miss the point (repeatedly) completely. IT IS NOT disrespectful to photograph a cop. We give cops a lot of power. They should expect a little, perfectly legal scrutiny. If they're not man enough to deal with that, then they shouldn't be on the force. The disrespect began when the cop came over to intimidate the photographer. And anyone can see in the video that the cop was in his face trying to intimidate. Granted, the photog. exacerbated the situation by being overtly rude. But he did not initiate the problem.

Freelancer don't need a story assignment. He is pursuing the story and he found it. He reported that police officers in NY do not know the law they supposed to enforce.

Totally agree. This guy was looking for trouble. It has nothing to do with his rights. It has everything to do with common sense which this guy has none. And why should Cops be recorded? That sounds like total paranoia.

The bigger question to me is: why SHOULDN'T cops be recorded?? Other types of employees have their actions at work recorded all day...why should cops be any different? NY cops are corrupt for the most part and the citizens of the city are on a mission to continue to expose it.

It's paranoia when it's cops being recorded, but not paranoia when we're ALL being recorded... Good one there, Mr. Hawking

Reason and right should not be confused.

The videographer doesn't have to have a reason. He can do it because it is his legal right as a citizen. Police are there to protect the legal rights of its citizens by enforcing the laws... this officer did the exact opposite.

Just because one can't find a reason or understand other's peacefull within the law act, does it mean that one can confront them by breaking the law and breaking his face? Not for me.
Not understanding is not a valid reason for violence. Self-defense is.

I would argue with you point for point but your logic is simply childish.

You admit that you can't see. So instead of fighting to the death, why not ask to be enlightened. You admittedly are arguing out of ignorance, and your persistence only demonstrates your arrogance in your ignorance.

Oh, and yes, I am the Shawn Thomas who shot that video.

Look, you are all trying to justify the guy's behavior! I am a parent, and as a parent i cannot condone that behavior. I am also European, and we're just as free there, and nobody acts like this and talks to a cop that way. The fact that this is a "free" country, does not give anyone the right to act like that. He literally had no business sitting there filming another cop doing his job. It is common sense, the cop first asked him to stop, and he didn't. I would never teach my kids that's "ok" to antagonize a cop and blame it on the constitution. THAT's childish; this is freedom misunderstood. It is one thing to be free, and a whole other to interpret that as "I can be the biggest a$$ I can be because my constitution said so!"

I tell you guy's what, reading this guys responses is hilarious as he seems to compound his ignorance at every given opportunity.

You argue that this guy has no right to be filming, then argue that its this type of behaviour that will prevent us from being able from filming anyone in the street - Make your mind up

You go on to call the arrested subject a "bum" - Not sure how you came to this conclusion.

Then you go onto to compare this event to photographing children without parental consent?

I think everyone is in agreement that if the cop hadn't have gotten in his face about it, and left him to film then the guy wouldn't have sworn and then wouldn't have got arrested.

Work backwards and look at how is first to blame for the situation escalating? You'll find its the cop.

Video recording anyone in a public place is NOT antagonizing. He was a distance away, and in no way interfering with the cops.

Sorry for the stretched analogy, but "I would never teach my kids that it's "ok" to antagonize a cop and blame it on the constitution?"

That's exactly why we (America) left Europe (not the continent). Because we over here believe that it's not "ok" to blindly follow the crown's orders. Because the Crown shouldn't be able to restrict what we can and cannot do, simply because the Crown asks. I teach my kids that they don't have to do anything "because someone tells them" if they believe that doing it is wrong. Maybe you should teach your kids that... they'll grow up to be more than sheep.

I still do not see how recording a cop from a reasonable distance away is antagonizing him. If you spend any time on the internet you will see people recording EVERYTHING! It is very common to record people, especially in such a densely populated area like New York. Is it smart? Not necessarily. Is it legal? Yes. Did him being there make it more difficult for the cops to do their job? No. Did the cop start off the situation by politely asking him to leave? No, he started his phone and got in the guys face before he said anything. A cop is suppose to be level headed in all situations. He should try and diffuse any situation before it escalates into a confrontation. In my opinion, the person who shot the video didn't make the best decision, but that in no way gives the cop to respond in the behavior that he did. If your child acted like that I would hope you would punish them and teach them that there are better ways to respond. I'm confused as to why you are defending the cops actions.

Now the problem clears - you're European? What do you know of our Constitution and our laws, what they mean and how they came into being? It's because of folks like you that we are here and not still there....and why we have a Constitution and not a King. Well, at least until the last presidential election we didn't have a King.

Your opinion has no effect on the law. The law is simple. In public you can be photographed and recorded. whether you like it or not is immaterial. You have stated your opinion several times. If you would like to present facts or laws that contradict the facts and laws that exist,...then please do so.
I am a photographer, I dont like being photographed,....I have the right to be offended, but thats all I can do about it.

Well, you can be biggest ass because the constitution said so, as long as you don't brake the law. Guess what! You can say whatever you want because the constitution said so. Maybe you should read the constitution, and some history about it. And please don't talk for a whole Europe. (Read the constitution of your country. I am sure you never have)

There is no such thing as part freedom-Nelson Mandela

Shawn, I fully disagree with your behavior here. From both a parent view and a simple citizen. Just like you, I have a right to my opinion: 1st amendment! No ignorance there. Unless you want to call the 1st amendment ignorant!

I don't want to be anywhere around folks who take their freedoms too far. I see zero reason for you recording another cop watching a bum, nor not stop something if you're asked to. If you weren't there paid by a newspaper, magazine, whatever, then I simply don't see a point in your recording that. The other guy was doing nothing, he was just watching the bum, and was not looking to start an argument. The other cop came over, and then noticed you, and asked you what you were doing, and to stop recording...you simply didn't answer him politely, then turn around and go on your merry way. You provoked him, and then you started cursing etc. This is giving us all a bad name and thanks to these types of incidents eventually nobody will be able to photograph/video anyone on the streets anymore. We parents, are already annoyed enough with this "freedom=entitlement" that certain folks feel to photograph our kids...why should there be a photo of my kid on "your" hard drive? I think you really need to sit down, and really think about ALL facets of this incident.

First of all, how do YOU know that the guy being detained was a "BUM"? Secondly, people have been victimized by the police for years, the videographer was simply documenting the event...and you don't have to be a reporter, or journalist to do so. That's why cameras are sold to ANYONE. You trying to equate documenting a police detainment with someone photographing your kids is a big stretch....a feeble one at that.

Well, the guy being watched by the cop IS someone's kid! & if you want to get "technical" then let's ask Shawn why he did not mention on the recording "why" was that guy being watched by the cop? I doubt it was for good behavior.

Regardless as to why he was stopped, how he is treated AFTER he is stopped is the purpose of the recording. Contrary to what you seem to believe, you don't have to be doing anything for a cop to stop you. That may not be a reality in YOUR world, but in the world that the rest of us live, it is a very big reality.

Also, the person being detained is an ADULT...not a kid.

There are photos of your kids on government hard drives... are you as concerned there?

He DOES NOT have to have a POINT to film the cop!! He just has to remain within the law. That's the way things work in our society. Some people need a refresher in civics.

The irony of people using the 1st amendment to justify their opinions but look down on others when their 1st amendment rights are being violated by law enforcement.

The 1st amendment is for EVERYONE, not just people who's actions you agree with. Make no mistake Mr. Thomas' 1st amendment rights were violated whether you agree with his actions or not.

I feel like I've entered the theater of the absurd.

You don't want to be around folks who take their freedoms too far? What kind of nonsense is that? Freedoms limited to YOUR ideas are not freedoms for me and they are NOT the freedoms outlined in the Constitution. The photographer was FREE to film the cop. The cop was totally out of line in his actions and was the primary cause of any escalation. I salute the photographer for knowing his rights and for his determination to show just how corrupt/illegal/uneducated the police can be. Fortunately I believe this is a rare case of this kind of lawlessness on the part of the police.

As an aside, I begin to see the problems in the US today. Ignorance of rights, unwillingness to demand them, and anger at those who do. We are in a sad state of affairs in this country.

why did the cop take out his phone, so he could demonstrate that he was going to initiate the discussion by acting like a 5 year old?? The fact that he deleted the subjects video only worsens the incident

More comments