Man Threatened with Arrest After Taking Photos of Police

Mar. 2, 2004


EAST ST. LOUIS - Fletcher Parker said all he wanted was a few snapshots of the East St. Louis Police Department in action, a force he said he strongly   supports.

Instead, he said cops seized his digital camera's disc, which records the images, and threatened him with arrest.

On Monday about 11:30 a.m., seven or eight city officers had captured a suspect behind a house at 17th Street and St. Clair Avenue and were leading him back to a squad car. Police declined to     state the nature of the arrest.

Parker said he was driving by when he spotted a crowd of neighbors watching the action.

"So I stopped and I was just taking pictures. Standing next to my truck on the opposite side of the street," said Parker, 38, an electrician and city resident who used an older-model digital camera.

After taking several snapshots and without talking to the police, Parker said he left. After driving three blocks, he realized he was being followed by six squad cars.

"I thought they were all just trying to pass me, so I pulled over. They come running out of their cars at me," he said.

Parker said the officers asked him if he was a reporter and when he said no, asked why he was taking photos. They then seized the disc from the digital camera, he said.

After accusing him of obstructing an investigation and warning him he was lucky not to be given a traffic ticket for failing to keep his auto insurance card in the vehicle, they let him go.

An angry Parker said he went an hour later to the police department and spoke with Police Chief Ron Matthews, and asked for the return of his camera disc. He said Matthews refused.

"The chief told me if they (the officers) had been doing their job they would have arrested me at  the scene and then we wouldn't be having this problem," Parker said.

But when he was contacted by telephone about five minutes after Parker left his office, Matthews said, "We are looking into his complaint now. We're going to find out what officers were out there."

Laimutis Nargelenas, a former superintendent of the Illinois State Police and a spokesman for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said ordinary citizens generally have a legal right to
photograph police in action, as do news cameramen.

But if a police officer orders someone to stop taking pictures, they must cease even if the officer has no legal basis for such an order, Nargelenas said.

"Generally, we tell our police to keep in mind that the citizens have cameras, like in the Rodney King situation, and to always do the right thing because they are a lot of cameras and video cameras out there," he said.

Parker said he contacted the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit to lodge a complaint, but was told by Master Sgt. Tyrone Jordan that it was illegal to take photographs.

Contacted by a reporter, Jordan said Parker did have a right to take photographs as long as he did not interfere with police, "although I would advise against it."

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