TV News cameraman attacked by mall security guards at Valley Plaza in Bakersfield,CA

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by JohnCM, Oct 30, 2004.

  1. JohnCM

    JohnCM Guest
    First Amendment Issues Raised As Valley Plaza Security Guards Tackle
    29 Eyewitness Photographer To Ground

    Fifty-two year-old news photographer Chuck Dennis was almost done
    videotaping the aftermath of an armed robbery at Valley Plaza Mall on
    September 9th. As Dennis was in the parking lot shooting Bakersfield
    police on scene just outside Macy's, a man in plain clothes approached
    Dennis and barks out, "Sir, I'm going to ask you to stop filming at
    this point and leave the mall please," said the plain clothes man
    without identifying himself.
    Dennis responds he's not leaving and tells the man in plain clothes,
    later identified as head security guard Dexter Owens that under the
    U.S. Constitution, he's got a right to be there doing his job. Owens
    attempts to grab the camera away from Dennis as he grabs the
    photographer from behind in a choke hold. At least three other
    security guards come and tackle Dennis to the ground who is still
    holding on to his camera. Everything is caught on tape. The camera
    never stopped rolling. The whole incident baffled several local
    attorneys who have nothing to do with the case.

    "The big question is, was it necessary to wrestle somebody to the
    ground?" said attorney George Martin with Borton-Petrini and Conron
    law firm. "The little bit of tape I saw was twenty seconds of
    discussion and boom, the camera goes to the ground. That's way over
    the line," said Martin.

    Dennis suffered cuts and bruises in his encounter with the security
    guards as they took him down. He was handcuffed and led away to a room
    in the mall and told he was being charged with trespassing. Owens says
    Dennis can not shoot without Valley Plaza's permission.

    "If you want permission to film here, you have to ask us, you don't
    tell us," said Owens.

    The incident raises issues of First Amendment rights for the news
    media and for the public. Along with Martin, attorney David Stiles of
    Chain-Younger and Kern County Counsel Bernard Barman say though Valley
    Plaza is private property, it is considered public access. That they
    say, means the news media can go where the public can go.

    Valley Plaza has another view. Marketing Director Marcella Anthony
    would not address the issue of why the security guards knocked Dennis
    to the ground nor would she grant an interview on issues relating to
    access under the First Amendment.

    In a written statement she wrote, "We will always support and uphold
    the rights guaranteed to all of us under the First Amendment. We are
    in agreement the press has a right to go where the public can go. We
    further agree the public in California has certain rights to access a
    shopping center. However, these rights are subject to reasonable
    restrictions of the property owners. Our policies and practices
    reflect the balance of these two important rights."

    Dennis has retained an attorney and is considering filing legal action
    for violation of civil rights. KBAK-TV General Manager Wayne Lansche
    says 29 Eyewitness News will continue to gather the news wherever it
    happens, including Valley Plaza.

    Valley Plaza's website:

    My Opinion:
    Wow, this is just an outrage! Some of these rent-a-cops really have
    anger management issues. The problem is they think they are the law.
    Like that one jerk that harassed me at a mall in New Jersey.
    They treat photographers like they shoplifted or committed a felony.
    Makes me glad I didn't resist that rent-a-cop in that NJ Mall earlier
    this year, now I know what could've happened!
    Any mall that treats the press like the actions of those guards in the
    Valley Plaza video is not a place I'd want to shop in!
    BTW I think that malls should be considered public access and
    photography allowed. After all, there are a bunch of guards watching
    you on hidden cameras, so you should be allowed to take pictures, and
    the press should definately be allowed to do their stories. Mall
    owners claim "Private property" and "would you like someone going into
    your home and taking pictures?". But a mall is not a private
    residence, it's a public access building owned by a mall real estate
    company, and the comparison between a mall and a private home doesn't
    make sense. In the case of the Valley Plaza Mall attack, I think the
    real reason is those guards did what they could to prevent the mall
    getting "bad press".
    JohnCM, Oct 30, 2004
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  2. JohnCM

    Michael Guest

    "Can go" and "can film" are two different things.
    Absolutely correct. It's private property. If some idiot walked
    into your home and started videotaping you, would you not want
    the legal right to stop him or her, forceably if necessary?
    If it does go to court, it'll be the easiest case the judge has
    ever heard.

    Michael, Oct 30, 2004
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  3. They cannot have imagined that they'd keep this out of the public eye --
    could they?

    I was once told by a security guard not to photograph a sign at a mall in
    suburban Los Angeles. The sign merely identified the mall and the company
    that owned it.

    I still have no idea why they objected.
    Michael A. Covington, Oct 30, 2004
  4. Absolutely correct. It's private property. If some idiot walked
    The question is not just whether it was technically legal, but also whether
    it was prudent and rational. What did they stand to gain by ejecting the
    cameraman? Was it worth the damage to their image that will result from
    having the public know they did this?

    Lots of things are legal but stupid.
    Michael A. Covington, Oct 30, 2004
  5. JohnCM

    Mark M Guest

    As bad as it all sounds, the fact remains that malls are private property
    where the public is allowed access and the property owner's
    Mark M, Oct 30, 2004
  6. JohnCM

    Ken Weitzel Guest


    Agreed. But the manner of eviction was completely inappropriate,
    wasn't it?

    I suspect that even if I visited your home, by invitation,
    and somehow managed to make myself unwelcome, you'd "ask"
    me to leave, then give me a little time to gather my
    things and leave peacefully and quietly?

    Ken Weitzel, Oct 30, 2004
  7. JohnCM

    GT40 Guest

    Being a formal photojournlist I can tell you that the security
    officers are going to be in a whole heap of trouble, from possible
    assult charges. Considering they didn't say they are with mall
    security. From what I was told by my editor, any time the officals
    show up, fire, police etc, they take control of the property until
    they leave. So while photographing the police doing thier job, you
    can't be charged with a trespass.

    Another note, I don't think the mall is going to get good publicity
    out of it.
    GT40, Oct 30, 2004
  8. JohnCM

    Mark M Guest

    Absolutely agree there.
    The trouble is, the guy wasn't complying, so it gets annoyingly muddy.
    He was certainly not posing a physical danger to anyone, so I can't imagine
    why he needed to be wrestled to the ground. If they were trying to avoid
    bad publicity, they certainly created worse than they already had. I think
    key here is the understanding that security guard position do NOT attract
    the most educated or even level-headed among us. I'm sure there are plenty
    of good security guards, but I am continually amazed at some the the guys
    who are walking around trying to make anyone feel secure. Many of them seem
    like the same type of characters that you would cross the street to avoid...
    Except that most security guard types spend a lot of time fantasizing about
    "big things" happening at their otherwise hideously boring jobs. They LOVE
    to imagine themselves tackling bad guys to the ground and etc.
    Mark M, Oct 30, 2004
  9. JohnCM

    Mark M Guest

    I agree with you that their use of force was irrationally inappropriate, and
    would support a case against them.
    Mark M, Oct 30, 2004
  10. JohnCM

    Matt Ion Guest

    Your home is not a "public access" area.
    Matt Ion, Oct 30, 2004
  11. JohnCM

    Alan Meyer Guest

    I don't think that is entirely true. A private home is one thing,
    a private business open to the public is something else. For
    example, it is illegal to deny access to to a person because
    you don't like the color of his skin, or because you don't like
    that he is in a wheel chair. The fact that it is your store or your
    restaurant or your shopping mall doesn't give you the right to
    do anything you want.

    I don't see how owning a property gives you the right to hire
    goons to grab somebody else's property (his camera), or
    to wrestle him to the ground and put handcuffs on him - even
    if he is in your mall.

    If a man walks onto your lawn and you don't like it, you can
    call the police and accuse him of trespassing. I'm not at all
    sure however that you have the right to go down and punch
    him in the nose.

    Maybe there is a lawyer in our group who can tell us the
    legalities of the case.

    Alan Meyer, Oct 30, 2004
  12. JohnCM

    Mark M Guest

    I agree that they handled it in a way that will likely (and rightly) get
    them in trouble.
    I'm only talking about the fact that they can indeed make rules about taking
    photos...etc. -Just as gambling casinos can restrict your "right" to use a
    cell-phone at gambling tables, or restrict your ability to use a camera on
    their grounds.

    I think it's clear that these security guys were total and complete fools,
    and probably deserve to be fired.
    No, you can't simply walk up and punch him in the nose, as it would be
    difficult that this was essential in removing him. But you could forcebly
    remove him if he resists.
    Personally I hope the security guards are fired, and that the mall has to
    pay for damage. But...they are still free to restrict a great variety of
    activities on their property.
    Mark M, Oct 30, 2004
  13. JohnCM

    GLC1173 Guest

    Being that Kalifornia's appellate courts already decided in the PruneYard
    case that people have a right to leaflet etc. in malls in that state, the mall
    in this case is in deep legal shit.
    Just the opinion of a North Carolina lawyer who practiced through the 1990s.
    <B>Dissident news - plus immigration, gun rights, weather, Internet Gun Show
    official newspaper of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy</A></b></i>
    GLC1173, Oct 30, 2004
  14. JohnCM

    Charlie Self Guest

    Mark M responds:
    Not in the parking lot, not after a public incident (bank robbery), not by
    wrestling to the ground with no provocation, not without identifying himself
    (the guard). What they've got here is a rent-a-cop who went over the line, way,
    way over the line. I would be astonished if the news photographer doesn't file
    suit, first for a civil rights violation and second as a result of assault and

    Charlie Self
    "When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not
    hereditary." Thomas Paine
    Charlie Self, Oct 30, 2004
  15. JohnCM

    Michael Guest

    It's still private property.
    Irrelevant. The fact that a crime is committed on private
    property doesn't magically change it into public property.
    The photographer was asked to stop taking taking pictures
    and to leave, and refused to do so. That is provocation.
    That is likely up to state or local laws, whether security
    personnel are required to identify themselves.
    Hopefully he will file charges so you can see how the law
    works in this country. Again, just pretend it was someone
    coming onto your property and taking pictures without your
    permission, and the mall's actions become utterly defensible.

    Michael, Oct 30, 2004
  16. JohnCM

    Larry Guest

    Even police officers are required to identify themselves
    before taking ANY physical action (except to protect life
    \property in IMMEDIATE danger).

    Many cases have been thrown out of court, and officers have
    lost jobs, even gone to prison for taking physical action
    before identifying themselves.

    Hollering "Take me to the police" is a good protection in
    such cases. Unless they have absolute proof you have
    committed a crime, they have no legal right to handcuff you
    or drag you away. (illegal restraint)

    Only two classes of people may do these things legally:

    Police Officers
    Bounty Hunters

    At no time do ANY un-deputized security officers have any
    right to handcuff, restrain, or otherwise imprison any
    citizen who was NOT caught committing a crime, and if he
    WAS commiting a crime it had BETTER be backed up with
    surveilance tapes. The now famous "Wynona Ryder case" would
    have been a looser except for the tapes of her stealing
    garments ect.

    I know it happens all the time, and I know people put up
    with it, but that doesn't make it legal.

    I only know these things because I've been there, done

    When I was accosted by security people for taking pictures
    at the local Mall (Crystal Mall, Waterford, Connecticut) I
    INSISTED that they immediately call the police if they
    thought I was "breaking the law".

    They called my bluff, and told me if I wanted the cops
    involved it was MY CHOICE.

    So I called the local police on a non emergency line and
    asked for an officer at a particular entrance to the mall.

    Upon the arrival of an officer, after a few quick questions
    they were chagrined. They had no signs posted forbiding
    photography, and no written rule saying it wasnt permitted.

    To my knowledge there is STILL (a year later) no signs or
    written rules forbidding photography, and I still take
    pictures there when Im in the mood. (usually while my wife
    Larry, Oct 30, 2004
  17. (snip)

    Charlie, there is a certain mis-choice of words here throughout the
    discussion referring only to the fact that the mall is "private property"
    and trying to compare it to a "private home."

    The trend in several court cases of similar nature has been for the courts
    to examine the extent of public access and then decide on two things: Is the
    place, factually, a "public place" or a "private place"? Irrespective of the
    nature of the place does the fact that the public are freely admitted, or
    not, make the place a "public forum" or a "private forum?"...

    Thus you CAN have a private place such as a mall (private place) or
    government owned sports stadium (a public place) host a "public forum" or a
    "private forum" at different times.

    On the basis or this legal theory, at least one state, PA, has established
    that publicly accessible parts of commercial (privately owned) shopping
    malls are a "public forum" for purposes of press and photographic access to
    the same extent that the general public has access. In that case the judge
    declared that such as malls have replaced the old "village green" and thus a
    place where the public could assemble freely and for ANY peaceful purpose,
    the press having the same right.

    On the other hand you can have a "public place" such as a publicly owned
    sports stadium that is temporarily leased to a sports club [or for a music
    show, circus, ect] that is then allowed TEMPORARILY to charge for access and
    otherwise restrict access to the public - making their activity, in effect,
    a "private forum" for access purposes.

    In the instant case, and even more curious, if the news photographer was
    filming the police going about the post robbery investigation (at least the
    activity in the arguably publicly accessible parking lot) then why didn't
    the mall security simply ask the police to stop him? I know what the answer
    would have been - they couldn't and wouldn't - but I am strongly curious as
    to whether they did ask and were told by the police to F-off, but then
    decided to act on their own.

    In addition to the issue of assault with actual bodily injury (criminal
    charge); and civil rights violations (state and/or federal criminal charge);
    and possibly criminal damage to the photographer's camera; and as they tried
    to seize it by force from the photographer's possession possibly attempted
    theft...(criminal charge); there is also the issue of handcuffing him and
    detaining him creating the possibility of "false arrest" charges (criminal
    charge); and as he was actually taken from the place he was handcuffed and
    restrained (in the parking lot) thence into the mall to be held against his
    will... KIDNAPPING ("big time" criminal charge).

    Methinks those mall security guys and their employer, indeed the mall
    itself, are in deep, DEEP, s**t! This could cost them, and I mean it
    literally, MILLIONS in damages.

    Journalist-North, Oct 30, 2004
  18. JohnCM

    Larry Guest

    I am in COMPLETE agreement here (see my earlier post)
    Larry, Oct 30, 2004
  19. JohnCM

    B. Peg Guest

    There is also the freedom of the press. Same incident happened at our
    workplace (school) where a fellow employee went down on the job and it
    happened that a news crew was there and began taking pictures (stills for
    newspaper). Our boss got charged later and in deep doo-doo by restricting
    the news team (actually the school's newspaper student reporters and
    photographer) from taking photos. As long as they were not interfering with
    a police officer in the line of duty, there isn't much you can do. They can
    stand 50 feet away and film all they want and there isn't squat you can do
    about it, even if it is the school's own news team.

    Aside, we even had one where a local newspaper photographer tried to tell
    the officers attempting an arrest of a supposedly drunk individual that the
    person in question wasn't drunk, he was mentally impaired form birth. They
    arrested him for interfering and later had to issue a public apology.

    Yep. Mall security is in deep poo.

    B. Peg, Oct 30, 2004
  20. JohnCM

    GT40 Guest

    I would suggest that the correct thing to do was to call the police
    and let them handle the situation.
    GT40, Oct 30, 2004
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