Rooftop Photographer Facing Serious Charges for Climbing Ben Franklin Bridge

On July 25, New York-based Photographer Martin J. Romero-Clark was apprehended due to climbing Ben Franklin Bridge to take some urban scenic photos. As a matter of course, it is dangerous and an illegal act to climb on a bridge, but now he is facing three felonies, each may carry a sentence of up to seven years.

Recently, we all witnessed photographers and models climbing high buildings and most of these incidents had widespread media coverage, and yet rooftop photography has always been very dangerous, even causing deaths. Luckily, Romero-Clark didn’t have an unfortunate accident during the incident, but now he is in a very serious legal situation.

Romero-Clark is a professional photographer, originally from Portland, Oregon. After graduating college as a business administrator in 2010, he started living in NYC and started his career as a professional photographer in 2011. He had never been in a trouble or arrested before, and he had no intentions of doing any harm on the day of the incident.

On the night of the incident, he and his friend were spotted by the police around 12:45 a.m., and taken down by seven police officers after the bridge was shut down. After his custody, all his photography gear, including a Nikon D810, Nikon 24mm f/2.8, and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 was confiscated at Delaware Port Authority office and now he is unable to work as a freelancer due to absence of his gear, which put him in a serious financial difficulty.

After all that’s happened, Romero-Clark is glad that no one got hurt in the end and he is remorseful, but now he is waiting for his trial on September 13, which he will be facing serious charges that may affect his life. In the meantime, his friend started a fund-raising campaign for the legal costs of his trial.

You might call this an irresponsible or a thoughtless incident, but considering all the possible consequences, do you think is it fair to get sentenced? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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54 Comments

Scott Edwards's picture

Thanks for sharing... with all the rooftop shooters in the world, there's the making of a great novel and/or screenplay in this and other stories.

Anonymous's picture

Given only the information in the article, I highly doubt he'll actually receive anything close to the maximum sentence. As far as his legal woes, I find it difficult to have sympathy and I'm pretty disgusted that he's trying to raise money for other people to subsidize the consequences of his lack of forethought.

I'm going to guess that he knew before the fact that was he was doing was illegal and that he could potentially get arrested for it. Despite this, he chose to do it anyway and trigger a response from law enforcement just because he felt getting a photograph for himself was more important. I can understand that we may not all necessarily appreciate the full gravity of the potential consequences of our actions, but that fact doesn't (and shouldn't) absolve us of those consequences.

All things considered, I personally hope that he gets a slap on the wrist and that he learns his lesson, but I won't really be outraged if they decide to throw the book at him to set an example either. It's ultimately the bed he made for himself. I'm sure there are those on here that will feel differently and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that's my 2 cents on the matter.

michael buehrle's picture

i agree with you. do the crime, do the time. he knew what he was doing, if not he isn't so smart. i would like to see him get his gear back though.

Jonathan Severino's picture

Does he pay taxes? It's a public bridge. He should get to do what he wants as long as he doesn't damage it or hurt anyone else. Most laws are stupid.

michael buehrle's picture

true but it's still the law.

Anonymous's picture

Wow. I hope you never come to my city. What if he'd dropped some of his gear, which happens, or fell, which happens. What if it or he fell on someone else? So it's okay if he promises that nothing like that will happen?

James Davis's picture

Local media reported that they (Mr. Romero-Clark and an acquaintance) got frightened and were unable to get down. So the first responders essentially had to risk their lives to save them, while also shutting down the bridge to traffic during the incident. But the laws are stupid, right?

Lane Shurtleff's picture

Another self entitled idiot who doesn't think of the consequences of what his dumb ideas can cause.

Dante Fratto's picture

Yes, it's a public bridge. It also has a walkway that closes at 9pm. I have photographic from there all the time. They were not on the walkway. They were on top of the tower. Also they has to climb a number of fences and gates to get up there.

Ann Quimby's picture

now if someone stole your camera or car or beat you up, would those be stupid laws that were broken?

Henry Canyons's picture

Sorry, Jonathan, but most laws are not stupid and even if they are you need to follow them. You Antifa anarchists living in mommy's basement don't run the world.

Yes, it is a public bridge. Climbing on it creates two problems. The first is that it becomes a public nuisance, particularly if the climber/photographer gets hurt. The other issue is terrorism, and that is a very real issue today.

John Yu's picture

Stupidity to the next level. There are reason that there are places that's off limit. Why not climb into sewer, other infrastructure? They are crown property, some area are available to the public, not publicly owned, it does not mean you can do whatever you want on it. What a shame he still ask for donation for his legal fee, try to get more money to waste other tax payer's money in court. I won't donate anything to his fundraising. Oh, what kind of professional photographer do not have back up gear, those not professional enough I guess.

Sean Gibson's picture

fund-raising campaign.... How hard am I laughing right now. I think a hefty fine would teach him enough of a lesson. Maybe 5-10k. It's New Jersey, I'm sure at least one car was broken into or person got mugged because these cops were dealing with his dumb ass instead of patrolling. Of course this kind of thing should all go into a charity fund, but instead it will probably go to pay for Chris Christie's lunches for the week.

Jacques Cornell's picture

"...taken down by seven police officers after the bridge was shot down."
They SHOT DOWN the bridge??? Must have made quite a splash.
Also, it seems unlikely his gear was "confiscated". I'd expect it to be held as evidence, then returned after the trial. Then again, there are some seriously draconian abuses of civil forfeiture laws in this country, so maybe that D810 has become the police department's new mugshot camera.
For more on civil forfeiture, see this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kEpZWGgJks

Dave Landfield's picture

@Jacques Cornell.

Jacques Cornell's picture

And your point is...?

Dave Landfield's picture

I hope your photography is better than your understanding of either law or English.

Jacques Cornell's picture

And your point is? I hope your command of English is sufficient to make one. Because your screenshot fails utterly to address the distinction I was making between temporary and permanent deprivation of property. The question I raised is, will his property be returned to him or not? This simple matter seems to have evaded you entirely. Any thoughts as to whether his property is being HELD or CONFISCATED?

Jacques Cornell's picture

I don't really give a damn about the nationality of the reporter. It's the information conveyed that matters. Did you even bother to watch the video?

Lane Shurtleff's picture

HAHAHA and your "rational thinking" is what all us 'Mericans need? Get a clue trumpanzee.

Kevin Devos's picture

Why is it, that every article I click on I find you trying to start a war in the comments? Does everything have to be politically motivated with you?

Ferdinand Teunisse's picture

This guy could not be more of a troll if his name was "Trolly von Trollerson" and his profile said he lived in Trollville, Trollistan :P

Jacques Cornell's picture

"you don't like what people say and are intolerant of them being able to say it"
OMFG, the irony.

Jacques Cornell's picture

There is no difference between John Oliver expressing his opinion and you expressing yours. Except that he backs his up with facts. Meanwhile, you seem to have no problem at all with actual meddling in American affairs by Russians. Hypocritical much?
Oh, and while we're at it, what did you think about Oliver's piece on civil forfeiture? You haven't said whether you agreed, disagreed, or even watched it. I'm betting you didn't watch it, and you just chimed in because you don't like uppity ferners. Unless they're Russian.

Jacques Cornell's picture

No, there really isn't. Meanwhile, what, exactly, did you find so objectionable about the piece on civil forfeiture? Did you even watch it?

Jacques Cornell's picture

Since when is talking or listening to a "ferner" giving up one's right to self-determination? Are you checking people's passports before you agree to talk with them? Does a non-American accent send you running from the room?
Xenophobic much?

Jacques Cornell's picture

Ten to one, Mr. Self-Determination Don't Listen to Foreigners voted for Putin's hand-puppet or is actually a Russian bot.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Don't listen to British comedians, but let Russian dictators run your life. Brilliant.

Jacques Cornell's picture

You voted for Russia's puppet.

Robert Nurse's picture

Oliver just points out how absurd American thinking can be.

Robert Nurse's picture

Oh, sure, I read it. But, I don't understand how being a foreigner invalidates his opinion. His opinion of American civil forfeiture is spot on.

Robert Nurse's picture

Oliver doesn't determine American policy. We do. Him having and opinion and voicing it doesn't change anything.

Kevin Devos's picture

Sometimes an outside opinion is needed, in order to progress. Also, not sure you realize it, but Oliver is a comedian. Anything he says should be taken as satire and with a grain of salt?

Jacques Cornell's picture

Bob doesn't even know what John Oliver said or reported. All he knows is he doesn't like ferners shootin' off their yaps.
Unless they're Russian thugs and murderers.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Ever heard of the First Amendment?

Jacques Cornell's picture

Pray tell, educate us on the difference.

Jacques Cornell's picture

That's not an answer.

Jacques Cornell's picture

God forbid we should encounter a different perspective.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Putin's hand puppet. 'Nuff said.

Lance Monotone's picture

John Oliver is an American citizen.

Lance Monotone's picture

Dear Angry White Man: I thought I saw a LWT episode where he announced he'd been nationalized, but now, as you say, I can't find anything to back that up, so (and here's a teachable moment for you) I will accept that I was wrong and ask for your forgiveness and understanding. He does have a green card, which means he's a legal permanent resident and thus pays taxes to support this shitty corporate kleptocracy filled with racist, willfully-ignorant asshats masquerading as Christians he chooses to inhabit. He's also married to an American vet of the second stupidest war this benign and flawless country of yours has ever started. But, I don't really care what nationality he is because it has no bearing on the validity of his report. I also don't want to spend my afternoon in another endless and pointless political argument with a so-called conservative, who in most other aspects is probably just like me except you've been repeatedly told over the course of three decades you should be angry that liberals exist and we can apparently feel empathy for other human beings, which is BAD. If you won't see the faults of our 'culture' and celebrate its potential, and if you refuse to believe that all people are created equal, there's not much I can or want to say to change your mind. You enjoy living in your apocalyptic fantasyland, holed up with your AR-15 waiting for the brown hordes and women to bulldoze your house to build a mosque or a community daycare. I'll continue watching the sun come up each morning. Deal? Deal.

Anonymous's picture

"No one should go to jail for a non-violent crime."
That's a pretty broad statement that seems—at least on the surface—to be predicated on the belief that no actual harm occurs so long as there is no physical violence. If not, then please feel free to elaborate. But working on that assumption, would you say that someone who runs a Ponzi scheme and scams hundreds of people out of their life savings with their lies doesn't deserve jail time simply because their crime is non-violent in nature? In the vast majority of these instances, it's not like they have the money to pay back the victims anyway and given the fact that they had to cheat to get the money in the first place, there's no evidence to suggest that many of them would ever be able to make the money to pay back the victims in a legitimate manner. So what do you do with someone like that? It would seem like there should be some discretion here to measure the impact of both the crime itself and the sentence. Not all non-violent crimes are harmless and there are definitely non-violent crimes for which jail time is probably well deserved. One also needs to consider the role of punishment in deterring further offenders here and this is where it gets tricky because the degree to which this should be the case is really a matter of personal opinion at the moment. The result of this is laws being applied inconsistently and some unlucky people being made examples of because some prosecutor and/or judge reached some arbitrary threshold in their tolerance.

"Fine the person appropriately and/or put them to work cleaning up streets, graffiti, etc."
I agree with this insofar as I believe that people should be made to positively contribute to society in some manner when possible rather than sit in a cell and leech tax payer dollars. To do this on a large scale across the criminal population that comes across the US court system—particularly given the demographics of that population—would probably lead to accusations of a modern day slave state. Please note that when I point out demographics in this case, I'm in no way suggesting that criminal activity is any more or less prevalent in one group vs. another, but rather the fact that it's quite clear from the make-up of the current prison population that there is a rather large discrepancy in regard to how the law is enforced and applied. There are many reasons behind that and those can probably saved for another day...

"There's also no reason for his gear to be confiscated."
I partially agree with this. The crime in this case was not photography, but illegally climbing the bridge and given the fact that the camera he had was not a tool used to carry out that illegal activity, I would say that his gear shouldn't be confiscated any more than his clothes should be. That having been said, if there is a criminal case being brought against him, then I understand why his photographic gear might be kept for the duration of those proceedings as evidence. And in the event that he is convicted, there might be rules regarding the preservation of evidence that would prevent these things from being returned to him so there's that, too. In an ideal world from my point of view, they would be able to just take his memory cards and clone them for use as evidence, but in the real world, making things that complicated for a jury would probably give a lot of potential openings for a defense lawyer to tear up the validity of the evidence.

"This police state nonsense in America needs to stop."
I'm not really sure how this relates to this article. A man performs an act that is dangerous and illegal—an act which, by all accounts, SHOULD be illegal—and gets arrested for it. All the while, he likely knows the entire time that his actions are illegal, but chooses to do them anyway. Upon getting arrested, he has potential evidence that is to be used against him in court held by law enforcement. That doesn't really sound like a police state to me. That sounds like reasonable law enforcement. I don't think there was any mention in this article of police brutality, suppression of free speech, intimidation tactics, or any of the normal red flags that one would associate with the activities of a police state. And certainly the enforcement of laws that you happen to disagree with in a manner you may personally find to be excessive doesn't automatically make it a police state either. So why even bring this up? I get your point in a broader context, but hyperbole like this in this context doesn't really help the greater argument. :/

Jacques Cornell's picture

I'm sure lots of financial swindlers who bilked folks out of their homes and retirement funds will be happy to know you're on their side.

Jacques Cornell's picture

You don't want them going to jail. I call that being on their side. Duh.

Deleted Account's picture

There is not nearly enough information here for us unwashed bystanders forming a remotely informed opinion.

Howard Shubs's picture

They have these things called "permits", guy. Next time, get one.

Pink Ninja's picture

The fact that he is looking to raise money for his legal defense makes me wonder if he thinks he is a victim.

Fritz Asuro's picture

"You might call this an irresponsible or a thoughtless incident, but considering all the possible consequences, do you think is it fair to get sentenced?"

Unless the general public are allowed to climb up to the top of the bridge (which is not). Well of course he has to face the consequences of such reckless act. Whatever creativity inspired motive he has, or even he didn't mean to harm anyone on the process (he'll do if he falls down), stupidity must be punished.

Andrew Ashley's picture

This is just wrong. And does a disservice to photographers world wide. Get your permit if you "have to get the shot"... and if you are denied, move on, or figure out another "legal" way. I have no sympathies for those willing to break the law to "get the shot." Wonder how we would all feel about this article if the photographer had died?
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/man-falls-death-climbing-s...
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57559011/photographer-falls-to-death...
Don't have to look too far to find out. It's stupid. It's illegal. It's dangerous. And yes, sometimes the police need to make a few examples to stop people from killing themselves or risking others lives.

Robert Nurse's picture

I really feel badly for this guy. But, did he ever consider getting permission? I once came across some fantastic photos taken from the top of the Verezano Bridge in NYC. The photographer actually got permission + NYPD escort. It wasn't even work done for the city per se. He just knew who to ask and was persistent. Now, I'm sure all that wasn't free. But, hey, better that than legal trouble. I hope everything works out for him.

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