Safety Tips and Inspiring Story From the Photographer Who Was Shot by Police Officer

Safety Tips and Inspiring Story From the Photographer Who Was Shot by Police Officer

My heart sank when I first saw the headline that a photographer had been shot by a police officer because his gear was mistaken for a weapon on a rainy night. I didn't want to open the story because I knew it would instill some more fear in my own work while shooting around law enforcement and other potentially dangerous situations. After finally reading the news story, my curiosity led me straight to Andy Grimm's social media to see who he was. I only had to spend a few seconds on his Facebook page to realize that unlike the tragedy that struck him on the stormy night of September 4, his story was pretty beautiful and inspiring.

Two weeks ago a story of an accidental shooting shocked the photography community, and it has led us to a photographer we may not have seen otherwise. We should all take a piece of inspiration from the way Grimm fills his community with life and love through his photography.

In our fast-paced world of social media, many stories like Grimm's start and end with that shocking event that brings them to our screens in the first place. I knew his story should not end with his shooting when I read his first post to Facebook after the incident: "...Guys, please share some pics from the storm last night. I didn't get any." This was just a day after two excruciating gunshots to his midsection. He was feeling a pain most of us will never know, yet he was thinking about the storm photos he missed. I knew he had to have a special kind of spirit to stay focused on what he loves after being unexpectedly shot doing just that. I followed his posts over the last few weeks, and I was overjoyed to find that his positivity hardly faded.

Photo of Andy Grimm watching his story on the morning news from the hospital. Photo by Caleb Perry

Photo of Andy Grimm watching his story on the morning news from the hospital. Photo by Caleb Perry.

Grimm is in constant pain and is struggling to complete the simplest of tasks without help, like unplugging his camera battery from the wall. In spite of the excruciating pain, he hasn't stopped taking photos since the accident to aid his mental recovery. He explained that these heartwarming images are from a bit of a different angle as he can't get low to the ground yet. Since the accident, he has been struggling with depression. He has dreams that the officer didn't miss the first shot he took. As Grimm is spending cherished time with his family and community, photographers and journalists from around the world have reached out to him to send regards. I was surprised to learn that he received some hate mail in the mix from people who think his compassion for the officer is a disgrace. Grimm said he does not want to bash the officer publicly because he is going through hell himself.

Photo by Andy Grimm after the shooting.

Photo by Andy Grimm after the shooting.

Grimm had two wedding clients cancel on him due to assumptions that he had to be dangerous for something like this to happen. Canon generously sent him a loaner rig to use for a while, but there is a GoFundMe for Grimm to be able to make up for lost work and purchase new equipment.

Grimm was overwhelmed to learn that he wouldn't be recovering alone, his photographs have touched his community so much that they are doing everything they can to help him heal. The officer who shot him even bought Grimm a new camera body after the incident as an apology. Grimm's gear he carried the night of the shooting will likely be in evidence forever. He is a huge part of his local community, with him and his father covering breaking news like accidents and fires. They have an incredible relationship with Clark County first responders, Grimm says. After the paper uses a few of his images, they distribute the rest to the first responders and their families. The wives and mothers print the photos and scrapbook them to adore for years to come. His relationship with law enforcement and their families is so close that he gets access to things even the TV news crews don't get. "At a fire three days before the shooting, the fire department let me ride up the ladder boom to get aerial pics of the devastation,” said Grimm. “TV news was looking at me like WTF?”

A First Responder on the job, by Andy Grimm

First responder on duty. Photo by Andy Grimm.

First responder on duty. Photo by Andy Grimm.

First responder on duty. Photo by Andy Grimm.

Grimm has only had one other negative incident with law enforcement, when his Jeep died in the sheriff's parking garage. In need of a jump, Grimm ran up to the sargent as he got out of his vehicle. He startled the officer, causing him to go for his pistol. Luckily, he recognized Grimm before any harm was done and they laughed and apologized to each other. The sergeant told Grimm he is cautious after being shot in a parking garage 10 years earlier. Grimm is completely understanding and forgiving of this and the most recent incident. Both times he was in a place he shouldn't have been with no credentials visible, a piece of equipment he will never find himself forgetting again. Just a few weeks after he was shot, against doctors orders, Grimm was back capturing the police hard at work performing a checkpoint.

After hundreds of days around law enforcement and now being shot by one, Grimm knows what to do to stay safe and respectful while in their presence with a camera. To leave no room for misjudgment, these are the three key practices he recommends.

Tips on Staying Safe When Taking Photos Around the Police

Whether it's intentional or not, every photographer will have some sort of interaction with law enforcement. If you're anything like me, you'll freeze up and forget why you even had your camera in your hand. So, knowing what to do to lessen the chance of misconception is important. 

  1. Email the agency, department, or person in charge before showing up to an incident or event. 
  2. Especially at night, make your presence known. For example, flashing your headlights, waving a press pass, or a verbal identification. 
  3. Don't move too quickly or unexpectedly. Never approach an officer from behind.

Grimm was proud that after he was shot, he put down his camera and didn't drop it.

Photo By Andy Grimm, Fireworks in front of the Madison Fire and EMS vehicle

Fireworks in front of the Madison Fire and EMS vehicle. Photo by Andy Grimm.

Every community needs a photographer like Grimm who captures the real life in his community in vivid, cinematic ways to show us how beautiful each tiny moment is. He helps us appreciate the men and women doing good in response to the bad, moments that usually remain unseen without a photographer there to document it.

You can view more of Grimm's work on his website.

Photos of Grimm in the hospital by Caleb Perry. All images used with permission.

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25 Comments

Anonymous's picture

Something every photojournalist needs to carry with them is a safety vest. They're dirt cheap and will make you more visible if you're going to be out at night.

And a bullet proof vest.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Yes sirrr

It wasn’t all sarcasm either. Anyone, at least in America, can buy good quality bullet proof vests for around a couple of hundred dollars, and that are not uncomfortable either. If I were a photographer shooting at night and in bad neighborhoods I would wear one all the time. I recommend that any photographers who do that kind of photography look into buying one. This poor photographer would have been unhurt, in this instance.

Anonymous's picture

You're less likely to get hit by a car.

"Grimm said he does not want to bash the officer publicly because he is going through hell himself."

What should be bashed is a police culture in America that allows for such incompetence, in addition to the many that would have made Himler's SS proud. Until police are routinely held accountable to at least the same standards as the general public, such things will continue to happen.

Unfortunately police culture in America today is incompetent and corrupt. Even the supposed good ones are corrupt through their deafening silence when one of their own has obviously done wrong. All that is the result of decades of putting the police on a pedestal, in movies and TV shows. I've known a lot of cops and unfortunately most were jerks with dangerously inflated egos.

While I know you mean well in saying "he helps us appreciate the men and women doing good in response to the bad," that kind of automatic praise actually needs to stop. Police and other first responders are public servants and the fact is many public servants, official and Americans in general, do good for the public in just as dangerous and even more dangerous jobs. That's why when I was still in the military I was never completely comfortable with people saying to me "thank you for your service." Praise people not for showing up to do their job, but when they have gone above and beyond what their job normally calls for.

I hope this poor guy is properly compensated and the cop is fired and charged appropriately. The cop supposedly feeling bad about it is not enough.

Anonymous's picture

Thanks. Any photographer (or person) with any self respect who would not take legal action after this remarkable unwarranted assault does a disservice to the community.

Anonymous's picture

I heartily disagree with this review of this disaster. If you are harmed by a PD without proper cause, be it shot or slapped in the face, get the best lawyer available to sue them so that they are made to address the issue with full responsibility. That is a moral social duty, because "you" could have been anyone. You can donate any award to charity if you feel bad, but sue them.

The Press has clear rights under the Constitution, subordinating them to law enforcement is done only in the most carefully measured fashion and never out of fear, and never just to play nice. Cops hate records of their activity generically, you give them an inch and they will crush your rights completely. Professionalism yes, subordination no.

The idea that bureaucracies like PDs are empathetic beyond superficiality when they do wrong is naive. They are probably at some level laughing behind his back, via the, "Better to shoot an innocent bystander than not shoot a danger" theory. The Blue Wall is a not a myth. The Chief cares about his budget above all, if the town's insurers hammer him, he will then discipline his people. Maybe.

In this case, apparently the shooter regrets his actions, the victim is not bitter. That is a nice turn of circumstance but does not speak to the larger issues. In my view the officer has disqualified himself to carry a deadly weapon, the victim has inadequate legal representation.

PS - I just watched the vid from the URL above me. A clearly unjustified trigger-happy shooting, no declaration by the cop to disarm, just reactionary use of a gun and pitiful mea culpa afterward. This could have easily been a death, including anyone behind Grimm. Everything I stated above stands. Andy Grimm needs a better lawyer. I do not know where he was shot, but when he's in pain in his old age and the cop is retired and touring Europe on a bicycle, he'll be regretting not haven taken the proper action today.

This reeks of victim blaming. I don't care if the victim himself feels he should have done something differently, because he could have been anyone. He could have been a hobbyist photographer out there that night. It's irresponsible to act like he did anything wrong, and that the cop was justified in his reaction.

HERE'S AN IDEA: maybe police shouldn't react to everything by drawing their weapon and firing.... twice, in this man's case.

As far as I know, the officer didn't say anything before shooting. He didn't ask for him to identify himself. He didn't ask him to stop. He just pulled his weapon and shot him twice.

POLICE SHOULD NEVER EVER DO THAT. BEING STARTLED IS NOT A REASON TO VERY POSSIBLY MURDER A HUMAN BEING.

I get startled frequently. I wouldn't be excused if I shot every person that startled me.

This article is irresponsible.

This man's attitude is irresponsible. I don't care if it's how he feels, I don't care if he knows these people, I don't care if the cop is "actually a good person." Because he's a shitty cop. He shouldn't have a weapon.

This is hands down the most irresponsible article I have ever read about something like this, coming from this sort of perspective. NOTHING ABOUT WHAT THIS OFFICER DID WAS OKAY. DO NOT EXCUSE IT, DO NOT ACT LIKE THIS MAN'S REACTION IS "INSPIRING." It is, in fact, not inspiring at all. He is giving the middle finger to all moral and social responsibility.

This event did not happen in a vacuum. It happened in a broader social context of the state of armed peace officers in America who are shooting people with little to no cause, often because they were startled, or scared, or some other such nonsense. Condoning any of this is sickening.

Shame on the author of this article.

Anonymous's picture

You got the facts right, but in a rather strident form that deflects from your message. In your defense; not everyone is willing to keep low key when serious harm is done illegally to innocent people. Yes I agree the author here has a very status quo approach, she'd make a terrible lawyer but most likely never tick off a boss.

In what way does my interpretation of the facts (which facts exactly btw?) deflect from my point? If you mean my understanding of what happened, I said the officer didn’t even say a word, just pulled and fired. Which is correct. And in no way deflects from my point because that is the point.

It’s good that not everyone is willing to remain calm when this stuff happens. NO ONE should. Every week we see multiple reports or videos of some police officer massively overreacting and going far beyond anything necessary or moral - whether it’s straight up murdering a person who is sitting in his car, or beating the hell out of a tiny woman because she was asking customers for money or any number of other non-violent things people do that gets them shot or beaten or injured.

I don’t care if someone feels like it’s this guys business whether he wants to forgive this cop since he’s the one that got shot - he has a moral and social responsibility to condemn this man’s massive overreaction - a man who should never be allowed to carry a weapon again. I personally think he should take action for himself as well, but that is his choice. However, his excusal of this behavior has a broader implication as an excusal of this behavior across the country. He has an opportunity to be a part - albeit likely very small in the grand scheme - of move toward change by getting this cop out of his uniform and away from guns and saying “this is not okay.”

There is never a reality in which it would be okay for a civilian to open fire (twice) because someone startled them and they thought their camera was a weapon. That person would go to jail and then probably prison.

So should this cop.

Anonymous's picture

Reread my first sentence. I do not say your "interpretation of the facts" deflects. I say the, "rather strident form" does. It does.

I was being nice, actually you posted a rant (including all-caps, which is a real no-no.) Just trying to help you be more effective, because I sympathize with your view. You missed that point and went off again with a speech. Please learn to keep in mind; "In writing, less is always more."

If you read my serious criticism of the cop on this page you will see we do not disagree on the incident, not that I'm here to make buds. And you can trust me; I don't need a speech on cops & social justice.

I find your lecturing annoying. At least Matt was ranting about the story. You're just wagging your finger in judgment. There, now I've lectured you, which makes me annoying too. This is why the Internet sucks.

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for sharing that.

"If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you." Donald Marquis - columnist, playwright, novelist, and poet, died 1937.

Hahahahahahahaha. "in writing, less is always more"

I love when someone lectures me - a published and produced (yes, like movies) writer - about good writing.

I honestly don't care what you think of my "strident form" of writing. Also don't care that you think caps, for emphasis, is a "no-no."

But mostly I just laugh at your little writing tip.

And also your Marquis quote; you must be really smart to be able to quote that!!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thank you for your critique, personally, I don't think everyone is born to be "responsible" when faced with situations like his. In the U.S we aren't thought to be "responsible" and fight for social justice. If we all possessed these qualities, there would be no writer, lawyers, activists etc..

He is inspiring ( a subjective emotion anyways ) because before being shot and obtaining the obligation to be "responsible" from you, he lifts his community. He photographs law enforcement saving people, keeping people safe etc, these are things we can overlook. Even after he was shot, he wants us to remain focused on what he photographs, law enforcement doing good...
If I were shot by an officer I don't know that I could keep a positive outlook on their work, let alone photograph them a few days later.

There are good arguments for both sides, forgiveness and responsibility. The officer probably had no malice in his heart when he fired; he was likely scared, incompetent or poorly trained. If it was me, I'd like to think I could forgive the officer but still expect the police department to compensate me for the pain and suffering I would experience for the rest of my life. The police are supposed to protect us, not shoot us. However remorseful he may feel now, in becoming a police officer that man chose to carry a gun, and I think Grimm let him off too easy. On the other hand, it's wonderful that Grimm has the humanity forgive the officer's poor choices and to recognize a terrible accident was just that. His compassion is inspiring in these days of instant hate.

Doc M's picture

In the current culture and many recent events involving police being targets I believe that it is imperative to take a bit of extra caution when entering into any active situation. While I do not see how this shooting should have happened and believe there will be fallout from it I do understand the jumpiness that is involved with first responders. There are many factors that contributed to the shooting none which justify it but all that strongly point to taking extra care when entering into and active area to help those involved understand that you are not a risk to them. While many feel that they shouldn't have too and they may be right but why not take the extra step to deesculate any question of intention. Even as an off duty first responder coming into an active science to render aid I always made clear who I was and what I was doing. Legally could I have just started working, sure but understanding the realities of what state our world is currently in demands that we take a few seconds more and communicate our intentions clearly. Again, from what I have seen in regards to this single sutuatuion I do t see any failure on the behalf of the photographer.

Anonymous's picture

You have it backward. Your take is servile, subservient, sheep-like, and demeaning of our Constitutional rights. It also demeans good pro cops, who don't do what this joker did in this case.

What a stupid viewpoint. Yes, take caution. I don’t think anyone ever said this man ran up to the cop. As far as I know, he did nothing that wasn’t cautious aside from I guess announcing his presence and his identity because I guess that’s where we are as a country. If you don’t identify yourself immediately, you get shot without warning.

Stop. Justifying. This. Shit.

Stop. Saying. It’s. Okay. For. Them. To. Be. Jumpy. And. Then. SHOOT A PERSON

Doc M's picture

While I am not in the habit of commenting an articles or responding to negative statements. I think it is important that what is taken away from this situation is the importance of situational awareness. That is all that I was trying to point out. Right or wrong is not relevant. Staying safe while working is all that matters. Yes we all have rights but those don't matter if the other person involved in a situation disregards them. As I have been taught the best way to stay safe is by understanding what is going around you and not putting yourself in a situation that could end up badly for you. Yes I do have experience with being detained numerous times for the colour of my skin and everyone of those situations was best handled later with people who may understand rights and laws better than arguing with the guy with the gun. There never will be justification for bad acts but anger about without precaution does not benift you or keep you safe.

Fine. Can you tell me how this man wasn't being safe?

To the first two words of the headline, Safety Tips, I'd add this: Don't run up to an officer and surprise them whether they're in a car or not. A year ago or so I was in a parking lot and looked across and saw a former student of mine in his patrol car. I hadn't seen him in a year or two and was excited to see him, so I ran up to the passenger window and waved. I could see the unmistakable jolt of adrenaline shoot through him as he jumped in surprised and tensed. He recognized me a half second later and rolled down the window to say hello. He let out a stressed breath and shook his head and said with a smile, "Dude. Don't ever do that. That scared the crap out of me."

I hadn't thought twice about that. But since then, I've been more careful to see the world through their lens (good metaphor, yes?). Most of these folks are interfacing with people on one of the worst days of their lives: auto accident, theft, house fire, or any number of other traumas. Half of the people they see are happy to see them arrive (but are under stress) and the other half are antagonistic toward them. Photographer friends: their view is different. Yep. There are cops who are jerks, a-- holes, and law breakers. I daresay there are a few photographers like that too. But they are at more risk. And to the point, they are more of a threat if we don't mind our p's and q's. This is not to absolve any officer of their duty or responsibility. Just a reminder to us that we need to take pause and see the world through their lens for a moment, if for no other reason than for us to take precaution where we can.

I've never had to go to an address where the call is "subject says they will kill a photographer today" and still have to show up. I have friends who are peace officers who have, and who have looked into the barrel of a subject's loaded gun. It's pretty easy to be a keyboard commando. Not so much in the real world.

1) half the people police interact with do not want to hurt the police. Nor are half “antagonistic.” That’s just stupid.

2) no, I - nor anyone else - do not need to see it through their eyes. They are supposed to protect people. Yes, they have to protect themselves, but the reality is protecting themselves has become the priority over doing their job (protecting the public).

You do not get to shoot a person because they startled you. You simply don’t. To argue that such a thing is okay is defending straight up murder. You don’t get to kill a person because they scared you. You don’t get to fire your weapon at a person because you think they “might” have a gun. You don’t even get to shoot someone who has a knife unless they are so close to you that it actually poses a threat. And you certainly don’t get to blindly shoot someone without saying a single word to them.

These people are scared, frightened little people (which honestly is a majority of the people who think they need to carry guns around) who have no idea how to react and should be nowhere near a gun or a badge.

What would happen if a cop snuck up on me and startled me and I shot and killed him? I didn’t know who he was. I just pulled my gun and killed him because I thought he posed a threat.

I’d go to prison for a very long time.

How are police different?