[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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Melvin's picture

Interesting topic.  Watch this guys handles it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTDu7mPxTj8

Benicio Murray's picture

he only got through that because he had the safety of numbers.
There's no way you could do that alone on a dark bridge and walk away.

Any time I go someplace to shoot where I think the police or security may give me a hard time, I look up the law specifically, and print out a copy to keep with me.  I will immediately pull out the printed copy from the appropriate government agency and show it to them. It always shuts them right up.  I am also calm and respectful.  But refuse to be pushed around.

I agree he's being a bit of an ass. He got rights, he knows them, but he's not using them the right way. It's not a "I-put-it-in-your-face-and-you-can't-say-anything" type of thing to do. I've been pulled over a few times and if you're respectful, you speak to the cops like they are humans, you just might end up with one or two new friends. It also helps to be in law school...

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Who wants to work driving car all day, having gun, give people orders and see fear from peoples' eyes for little money? It is very easy to become a cup and most of candidates have big personal issues. They want to pay back for being bullied at school or for being abused at home.

This photographer could show them ID and comply but... there is a real problem behind that.
That is the photographer who was just taking pictures and that is the one who is expecting police to take care of safety on the street. Instead police is wasting time with guy with camera and 2 miles away somebody is getting stabbed or shot...

Cops are looking for easy targets but they don't have the guts to go into "bad" zones.

BTW. Why I can take pictures with iPhone but with dSLR I am a terrorist?

The officers are guilty of malfeasance.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malfeasance_in_office

>Malfeasance has been defined by appellate courts in other jurisdictions as a wrongful act which the actor has no legal right to do; as any wrongful conduct which affects, interrupts or interferes with the performance of official duty; as an act for which there is no authority or warrant of law; as an act which a person ought not to do; as an act which is wholly wrongful and unlawful; as that which an officer has no authority to do and is positively wrong or unlawful; and as the unjust performance of some act which the party performing it has no right, or has contracted not, to do.

Malfeasance in office requires an affirmative act or omission. The officers made claims about laws that do not exist in Pennsylania.
Second, the act was done in an official capacity—under the color of office.

yahoo-OLDV7TRKMUX4WN3XPKCROCP5WQ's picture

I am a police officer, and a photographer.  Have I been called to suspicious people? Yep. Every day. Do I ask for ID? Yep, almost every time.  Had this guy just gave the cop his ID, odds are he would have just been on his way. So many times I see photographers whine about being hassled, yet when I watch and listen to the videos they try to show up the cop and play 'know it all'.  Why would I want his ID? Sometimes the departments require that names be recorded on every citizen contact. Maybe I want to make sure that the guy i'm talking to isn't wanted for murder. How do you think the cop would feel if he later learned that the guy he just walked away from was wanted for child kidnapping?  Guess what folks- in the real world not everyone is a nice guy.  People lie to cops all the time, and we know this- so we ask for id.  Maybe this photographer was creating a traffic hazard on the bridge and wasn't supposed to be there.  Also consider that not everyone out in the middle of the night are honest, good citizens.  Usually two people out in the middle of the night- drunks and thieves.   Are there idiot cops? Yep, and we know it.  

Also look at this- just because you print out a law that says you can photo on a public street, you may not always be in the right.  There are other laws, and city ordinances, which may regulate you in other ways.  Don't act big and start throwing laws around- we know them too.  

My suggestion- go along with the program.  If the cop asks for ID, give him your ID.  If you're not doing wrong you have nothing to worry about. If you feel the cop is in the wrong, call his/her supervisor, or ask for them to come to the scene. Don't tell the cop what he can, or can't do.  He may dig up an obscure law and arrest you just to prove his point.

Henry Orth's picture

I couldn't disagree with you more.  I am sad to see my fellow police brothers acting like this and hearing anyone defend this type of questioning and behavior - we do not live in a police state!  I'd love to see this course of questioning being defended in a court of law.

Patrick G. F.'s picture

"My suggestion- go along with the program." - Really??  From an officer?  Please resign.

City ordinances that regulate behavior or an act that a photographer is committing should be appended to the law that stipulates the primary act. Especially if it supersedes it. For example, if you by your lonesome are doing something that doesn't create disturbance things might be fine. But then if a crowd gathers to watch that's probably a different story especially if people are at risk. 

Justin's picture

I disagree as well.

If I'm sitting in a park after sundown with my hoodie pulled up because it's cold and a cop asks me for ID because I look "suspicious," I'm supposed to just acquiesce?  What, because he's wearing a badge??  I don't think so.
Your "wanted for murder" and "child kidnapping" worst-case-scenarios may indeed be somewhat plausible, but citizen's rights are citizen's rights.  Just because we live in a shitty world where "not everyone is a nice guy" doesn't mean our rights as citizens are any less substantive.

Except in this case the officers did NOT know the law -- at least not the PA wiretapping laws.  I'm all for being respectful, and to be honest I don't know if I would show my ID or not in a similar situation, but showing an ID when there is no probable cause is in effect a waiver of a constitutional right.  That might be a small deal to you, but a big deal to someone else.  "Go along with the program" strikes me as poor advice, regardless of the issue at hand.

Sorry but you just wrote some big ass cop propoganda bullshit.
Fear talk is wonderful ohh my god he might have been a child rapist posing as a photographer or oooohhhh a terrorist ya know a towel head ooohhh "fear fear scare scare". By the way I apologia to anyone I may have offended with that comment but thats the nature of what the post is about use tropes that will make people thing emotionally and not rationaly. You may not be in the right ??? well if your trespassing sure the officers weren't approaching him saying he trespassing they were asking what are you doing. lets jump to the only relevant thing here which is there are idiot cops.And kids always tell a cop what he can or can't do if he's breaking the law.

Henry Orth's picture

I am a former police officer and currently a Lieutenant with Fire Rescue and it makes my blood boil when I see officers who don't know the law pretend to quote some fictitious law and threaten the public they are sworn to protect.

Sorry to the police officer above - NO - just going along with the program is not the answer.  Did I ask for ID, of course but if a person knows and exercises there constitutional rights - THEY ARE TO BE RESPECTED!!! 

The Police officer lied and said you are not aloud to record.  In a public place there is no expectation of privacy and he is indeed aloud to record.  I became a police officer to serve and protect not harass and berate the public I was paid to take care of.

Police officer also here... very true there is no expectation of privacy in public for audio or video recording for both parties. I personnally always carry my mic when Im out of the car for this reason. I want both sides of the story recorded. If Im right I want proof. I did not watch the video because I have seen so many of the same. Usually its a little of both sides getting a little too huffy. After 9-11 everything changed. Where I am at, the railroad forbids anyone on their property. They officially requested us handle all suspicious person calls.That includes a lot of side roads and a bridges always used for photography of trains. Does a common person know they are trespassing on a bridge? Probably not. Guess what? It's trespassing. No one likes it and you have to move along. Do I get grief? ALL the time. People have no idea what information I was given before responding. "A person who put what looked like a gun in a big black bag above the railroad tracks?" Sure. I have to respond as that is accurate. If you become evasive that makes it worse. Every situation is different. Information must be gathered quickly and the person must be evaluated as a threat, lier, or someone hiding something, or a common law abiding citizen in a matter of seconds. Thats not always easy. Especially with society the way it is today.

Its only that way because we allow it to be, nothing changed other than people pushing to pretend that it has so they can abridge peoples rights.

Yes you get a call man with rifle on bridge and when you get there its a man with camera, that not hard to ascertain or to verify without having to do a strip search or even ask for id, just use your eyes

I want you as my police officer! 
Excellent and well said.

Werner Rolli's picture

Very interesting topic. To be honest, I feel there's no middle ground here. I personally run into things like this occasionally (I live in Switzerland but also travel and have visited the US where I have been asked for an ID).  I just try to stay calm, show my ID and usually that solves the problem. Abroad I never argue but stop what I am doing if told to. At home I am much more confident to state my point and, of course, I know the laws better. I think we should show some respect for each other but also refuse to be pushed around by a cop who doesn't know my rights.

Sander van der Veen's picture

i'm glad i don't live in the US. The cops seems to be a pain in the ass all the time lol!

Nathan Hamler's picture

this is such a thin line to walk.....you either "protect your rights" and dont show ID, or, if you really have nothing to hide and are a law abiding citizen, then you show ID, and they leave you alone....honestly, if it were me, i'd just be like sure this is who i am, i have nothing to hide, i'm just shooting photos for fun, and that's it...if you want to to leave, ok...whatever...WHO CARES.....i'll go have fun somewhere else, and try something else....

the fact is that the police really are just doing their job....since 9/11 everyone takes "potential threats" seriously.....if someone called it in, or the cops just saw it riding by, obviously they had a suspicion, so they stopped to investigate.....they're doing their job in keeping the public safe....HOWEVER, if the cops were SMART, they'd have seen it was a camera, not a rifle, and been like ok, have a good night...if he's not posing a traffic hazard, then it's cool, we'll leave you alone....

i just think this was a bad situation, and the cops weren't smart, and the guy didn't make the situation any easier if he truly had nothing to hide...

Can I have all your medial records? You probably don't have anything to hide, so give them to me. If you don't, I'll suspect you have a horrible STD. Why aren't you showing them to me?

Shaka Mayers's picture

Belligerent and racist to boot. Tsk.

yahoo-OLDV7TRKMUX4WN3XPKCROCP5WQ's picture

@facebook-507745098:disqus - Resign?  You make me laugh.  @facebook-644654204:disqus -I guess a Fire Dept is where you belong.   Maybe you didn't get the jist of what my comments were about- so let me speak simple to you:  Yes- go along with the program.  The cop asks you for ID, just give it to him.  Why start the meeting off on a bad note?  What does it hurt? The cop wants to know who you are.  Give him the few minutes of respect and he will probably give you the respect back.  When I stop a car, I can usually tell whether or not i'm going to write that person a ticket within the first minute of talking to them.  Yelling at me, insulting me does you no favors.  We see these videos and everyone wants to yell that cops are all jerks and should be tarred and feather.  Wait a minute- how many thousands of contacts are made between photographers and cops every day? We see a few examples and that causes everyone to be in an uproar?  If I were to take that approach then every person I see with a camera is problematic and will be confronted as such.  You wouldn't like that would you?  It also appears that several may have missed my statement that I also am a photographer. If I wasn't I sure wouldn't be reading this website.  If anything, I'm the cop that you want to meet.

Henry Orth's picture

First I don't appreciate your insult and the fact you are hiding behind some fictitious name.  I have two Officer of the month awards and have undergone 8 surgeries for putting my life on the line (six in police work and 2 in Fire Rescue).  Please don't belittle my 17 years of service and the brotherhood between Police and Fire.  Switching was my choice and difficult because I loved police work.

My point is - that just because we carry(ied) a gun and a badge does not mean there is not a constitutional framework we must respect and follow.  In this recording you can hear that the Police officer is not acting within that framework.  That is the issue here.

Depending on your (police officer's) age, maturity, experience and tenure  - these encounters can be very different.

Looking forward to meeting you one day and sharing a coffee or beer, until then stay safe and happy shooting (pics that is).

Patrick G. F.'s picture

I guess your welcome...I try to have the highest respect for what officers do everyday
but if you are not trying to protecting our freedom, what are you doing? :(

Ahhhhhhh Hi trollbot so do you work for which police department or conservative propaganda machine

I get stopped by the cops pretty regularly because I take photos of vacant storefronts. Usually it's not an issue and I can get away with just telling them I'm a student (even though I'm not, it seems that works better than "I'm a photographer, the photos are for my body of work" because they ask what I want to use the photos for and who's paying me, etc...). But one time I had a cop ask "How do I know you're not just casing the place?" and I had to remind him that it's a VACANT STOREFRONT and there's nothing to steal (at which point he looked a little embarrassed and went on his way).