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Calif. photographer faces charges after taking pictures outside newsroom

October 1, 2010

CALIFORNIA -- A California student photographer faces two criminal charges for taking pictures of a parking lot accident outside his newsroom at Chaffey College.

Justin Kenward, a photographer for The Breeze, was in the newsroom when a medical emergency crew attended to a man in a nearby parking lot. He grabbed his camera and took pictures of a man being loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher.

"As far as I know the victim had absolutely no issue with me shooting the photos," Kenward said. "In fact, when he saw me he waved and smiled."

Kenward said the victim was sitting upright and talking on his cell phone.

"Firefighter medics reported that while they were attending to a person experiencing chest pain, a photographer began taking photographs of the patient despite the patient's objections, and allegedly interfered with the care of the patient," according to a press release from Chaffey College.

Kenward said the paramedic told him he was not allowed to take photos of the man in the ambulance due to doctor-patient confidentiality. Kenward moved further back.

A few minutes later campus cadets told him not to photograph the scene. He identified himself as press and the cadets walked away.

"I took that as a green light and continued shooting," Kenward said.

He said he was about twenty feet away when a firefighter said no pictures were allowed. Kenward argued with the man, took down his name and went inside.

Shortly after, an emergency team member came in with a police officer. Kenward, the newspaper adviser and a Breeze reporter spent about an hour discussing the matter with the police. The officer wanted the images but the group refused. Kenward said the officer threatened to expel him from campus for two weeks if he did not hand over a copy of images.

"I knew he wasn't able to actually expel me, that's up to the school board," Kenward said.

Gregg Leslie, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said police cannot legally demand the pictures under newsroom search laws.

"You cannot seize the work product -- including notes and photographs -- even if you have a search warrant," Leslie said. "The proper route would be for them to subpoena the photos."

He said the photographed person can sue for invasion of privacy, but that does not give police the right to stop the photographer.

"You can always take pictures at a crime scene, but you can't interfere," Leslie said. "Even taking pictures inside an ambulance is not necessarily illegal."

Administrators Lisa Bailey, Sherrie Guerrero and Michael Dinielli were also at the accident scene. None could be reached for comment.

Bailey and Guerrero encouraged Kenward to give the photos to the officer, Kenward said. When he refused, the officer went to speak to the fire department and again threatened suspension.

Three hours later the officer came back and spoke to Kenward alone. The officer charged Kenward with two misdemeanors -- interfering with a firefighter and disobeying an order from a firefighter.

"I wanted to scream," Kenward said. "I just listened and signed the notice to appear in court."

Leslie said it is hard to predict what will happen in court.

"It sounds like he obeyed and simply did not give up the photographs, which he had the right to do," Leslie said.

Kenward's court date is Nov. 18.

By Caitlin Byrnes, SPLC staff writer

© 2010 Student Press Law Center

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