Photographer detained for taking photos of the LA subway system

The photographer “Discarted” has gone done it again and threatened national security by violating the laws of the MTA and taking photos of the Los Angeles subway system that he could very likely end up selling to Al Qaeda. Seems perfectly reasonable that he be detained by LA Sheriffs, right?


Except that there is no rule prohibiting public photography in Los Angeles subway systems. And any detainment would require a reasonable suspicion of the subject having committed a crime… which may have occurred, but the only unusual activity the Sheriff ever cites is Discarted’s act of taking photos.

After handcuffing Discarted, the sheriff doing most of the talking, Officer Richard Gylfie, is heard threating threatening to put him the FBI’s “hit list” and will be flagged and detained before boarding planes, trains, or other forms of transportation where an ID is checked. And why? Apparently for not shivering in fear to Gylfie’s demands to tell him why he’s taking photos… or maybe I’m missing something.

As if it needs repeating, photography is allowed in public spaces, including the subway system. Its a shame that the same people who we pay to enforce our laws are blatantly ignorant of this, and instead abuse the power that we bestow upon them to harass and intimidate.

Feel free to leave your thoughts here, or at Discarted’s blog.

17 thoughts on “Photographer detained for taking photos of the LA subway system”

  1. yikes…. just chippin away at the old rights of citizens. Why do cops forget they work for us in upholding the law, not in making the rules….

  2. My first reaction is “Unbelievable!” Of course, it’s perfectly believable, because this sort of thing happens time and time again. The officers argument is “I don’t know that you weren’t taking pictures of the track for terrorist purposes.” Doesn’t that negate his reasonable suspicion? For that matter, he didn’t know that Discarted didn’t rob a bank earlier in the day. Could he have been detained for that as well, until the officer could ascertain that no banks had been robbed?

    I’m a strong supporter of law enforcement personnel, but incidents like this make it difficult to take their side. Clearly this officer (and others) require some additional training.

  3. And after this some people call this a Free country?
    My goodness…
    This is becoming a totalitarian regime!

  4. Seems like the officer took it too far. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an officer to ask someone taking pictures of trains, etc. what he’s doing. However, once someone gives a reasonable explination such as being a photographer, the officer should leave it at that. Now, if the photographer’s explination doesn’t make sense or otherwise sets of alarm bells, the officer could make something of it. Nevertheless, it seems like what happened here was probably excessive.

  5. I’m no law talkin’ guy, but aren’t the processes of taking the photos and selling them to Al Qaeda two separate issues? Like, the guy can’t be arrested for something he might do in the future but hasn’t done yet?

    However, while the sheriff was clearly in the wrong, I can’t be completely on Discarted’s side in this matter either, because it seems to me he went in with the intention of provoking an officer of the law. If he had given a better/less confrontational explanation as to why he was taking photos than, “Because I want to,” the sheriff likely would have been less confrontational as well. He could have made the same point without pissing off the sheriff – give him the answers he wants, then turn it around and ask the sheriff why he was being questioned, get his name and badge number, etc. – but he wanted to capture the drama on video.

    Re: Cullen’s post, just saying he’s a photographer explains nothing. Anybody with a camera can make the same claim. He should have business cards and release forms on him. That would make him seem more legitimate. Of course, legally speaking he isn’t required to do any of that, but any smart photographer who isn’t looking for confrontation would take those steps. So again this comes across as being a calculated move, which I don’t like.

    But while I may not entirely condone Discarted’s methods, the sheriff clearly was abusing his position of authority, not to mention ignorant of MTA rules, and he deserves some sort of punishment.

  6. I was just on the Metro Red Line last Friday where I shot some videos of the subway ride using my iPod Nano video camera. Fortunately, no one stopped me for doing what I did but God forbid that such a thing will ever happen in the future. I often take pictures of Metro bus and rail as well as OCTA buses because I’m a huge transit fan here in SoCal. I realize that the post 9/11 anxiety may still resonate with some but come on!

  7. I think if that very situation occurred and the photographer was polite and explained they were taking pictures of the architecture or doing photography as a hobby, the encounter would have been 30 seconds and ended with “Have a nice day.”. Even if the sheriff acted in error, it wasn’t before he was antagonized by some creep with a running video camera who’s manners go as far as “it’s not illegal” and “am I being detained?”. Throughout the video the sheriffs seem sincerely concerned about the safety of the subway system and Discarted seems sincerely… Dickarted.

  8. “…if it’s not illegal, why am I being detained?”

    Why don’t you stand in front of a bank wearing a ski mask just for fun? Better yet, why don’t you run when the police arrive and see what happens?

    Or, how about walking down the street carrying a knife dripping with fake blood?

    Neither of these acts are illegal but it takes a moron to question why they would be detained by law enforcement.

    I commend the deputies for doing their job!

  9. JC has a good point. Taking pictures is not, in fact, illegal. Selling them to terrorists might be, but there is no indication anything like that is going on here. Given that there is no obvious illegal activity, and the suspect (Discarted) isn’t wearing a ski mask or holding a bloody camera, there is no probable cause for being detained. Simply refusing to provide the answers the deputy is looking for or asking directly if he is being detained is not probable cause. In fact, whether or not he is being detained is important information to have, because if he is not, he can simply walk away from this encounter.

    There will be those who ask why he wouldn’t just answer the deputy’s questions politely in order to avoid the confrontation. Regarding Discarted specifically, I would say that he clearly didn’t behave as he did because just enjoys adversarial engagement with law enforcement; he was making a point. If you can get beyond your belief that he was just acting like a dick for fun, it is an important point that we should all be reminded of.

    We live in a relatively free society. Our system is set up such that citizens don’t (or shouldn’t) have to fear being stopped at the whim of authorities and asked to present identification or to explain what they may be doing, where they are going, etc. There is a certain expectation of privacy in this country, and those requests from authorities violate that privacy. Of course law enforcement should investigate possible criminal activity, but they should not stop citizens without probable cause, then further detain and threaten them if they don’t like the citizen’s attitude.

    On the subject of politely answering questions from law enforcement in general, it is a bad idea. As a matter of simple societal courtesy, of course one should try to be polite with whoever s/he might meet throughout the day. That courtesy extends to law enforcement. There’s no reason not to be polite. Just don’t answer any questions.

    In a former life, working in criminal defense, I cannot tell you how many clients I had who thought it was alright to answer questions, because they had done nothing wrong; they had nothing to hide. They often found that statements they thought were perfectly innocent only got them deeper into trouble.

    Having a pleasant, courteous attitude eases the way in most interactions, whether it is with law enforcement, the customer service rep on the phone, or the waitress in the local coffee shop. Remember the old adage: you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. On the other hand, that positive attitude is not required by law, and certainly not deserving of detention or threats.

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