News & Politics

Watch: Cops Detain Man For Taking Pictures of Police from 90 Feet Away

Award-winning photographer Shawn Nee was detained by Los Angeles police after he photographed officers intervening in a domestic dispute.

Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department.
Photo Credit: Shay Sowden/Wikimedia Commons

On June 2, 2013, an award-winning photographer was detained by the Los Angeles Police Department for photographing officers--a Constitutionally protected activity. Now, he has taken to the media to publish his story. The account was exclusively published by

Shawn Nee, a documentary photographer, was detained in Hollywood in June. Nee was out on the job doing regular street photography when police officers showed up 90 feet away to intervene in a domestic dispute. Nee decided to photograph the officers while they were doing their job. That meant trouble for him.

Video taken by Nee on body cameras shows an officer coming up to him to ask him his name and what he was doing. Nee said he did not have to answer the name question and also said that he was just doing his job.

After the initial conversation, an officer then came up to Nee and detained him for “interfering with a police investigation,” as a cop told him--even though he was doing nothing of the sort. Nee says the officer was so far away from him while photographing that the “officers had to walk down a 60 yard driveway, enter their squad car, and drive to the location where he was taking photographs around the corner from the initial investigation just to detain him,” as Reason’s Paul Detrick writes.

A supervisor later told Nee that “when it interferes with the job of police then it becomes a problem. At that point, you no longer have that freedom to go ahead and take your pictures.”

Nee is part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Los Angeles police for their practice of detaining and searching photographers.

“Photography is not a crime. It’s protected First Amendment expression,” the ACLU states on their website explaining the lawsuit. “But that hasn’t stopped deputies of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department from detaining and searching photographers, solely based on the fact they are taking pictures in public places, and ordering photographers not to take pictures on public streets and other public places where photography is not prohibited.”

Watch Nee’s video of his interactions with the police below, via his YouTube site:

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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