Mark Sailors run in with Arcata Police over documenting traffic stop

Original from Mark Sailors:

To Whom it may concern,

Last night, Saturday the 15th of October, I attempted to document a traffic stop/ arrest on Fst in Arcata. I was on the other side of the street, at least 45 feet away, not interfering whatsoever when I was instructed by a uniformed officer that if I continued to take photographs he would arrest me. At that time I informed the Officer that I was a member of the press working on a story and that they had no expectation of privacy in a public place. The officer continued the threats pointing his flashlight at the camera to prevent me from documenting his actions. After that he left the scene of the traffic stop/ drug arrest walked acroos the street to tell me that I had no right to photgraph him, and that the perpetrator was complaining that I was taking their picture. At this time he told me that I could either leave or be arrested. I asked for his business card and he flatly refused. He told me to make a complaint to the on duty supervisor. I then walked to the police station less than two blocks from the stop to use the outside phone to contact the dispatcher. He told me to wait for the supervisor. I waited for 15 minutes, when the supervisor did not come out, I returned to the scene to continue to photograph the incident knowing full well that I was within my rights to photograph the scene but also knowing that I was risking an illegal arbitrary arrest. I know the officer was wearing a body wire and I would like the recording preserved as evidence. I would like to request a meeting with the Chief of Police to discuss this incident and to make sure that this type of infringement on the first amendment rights of photographers, journalists and photojournalist are not infringed. Included is a copy of the rights of photograpers in the USA.

Reply from Susan Ornelas on October 17th:

Mark –

Please don’t worry that a trend is starting in Arcata.  While we did have a recent incident where a police officer, at the behest of searched party, requested an onlooker to stop photographing the search, it is not a trend.  I spoke with Tom Chapman about it today.

The photographer was within his rights to photograph the incident, and the City realizes the police officer was in error asking the onlooker to not photograph.  Our best understanding is that he was trying to comply with the searchee’s request.

Chief Chapman is looking into the incident.

Thank you for being vigilant into supporting citizen rights.


Susan Ornelas
Arcata City Council

Reply from Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos on October 19th:

Dear Susan and Mark:

I certainly cannot answer for Chief Chapman or on this particular
incident.  I can, however, advise you that the primary concern is
officer safety.  If an officer is responding to an incident the officer
is attempting to carry out their duties in accordance with the law while
maintaining officer safety. If an officer is operating alone, what
constitutes officer safety can be very different than when an officer is
acting with a partner or other officers.  Similarly, the proximity of
the recorder to the incident can create officer safety concerns.

I confident that Chief Chapman wants to do everything he can legally and
ethically do to provide assurance to the people of Arcata that his
officers are doing their job of enforcing the laws while giving everyone
the protection of the laws.  I am also confident that Chief Chapman
knows that recording his officer’s conduct provides both them and the
community protection.  However, his primary obligation and his officers’
primary concern are and have to be officer safety.

I hope this answers some of your concerns.  If I can be of further
assistance, please feel to call me directly at ***-****.

Paul V. Gallegos
Humboldt County District Attorney
825 Fifth Street
4th Floor
Eureka, California 95501


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