FREE PRESS -- Here's how an aggrieved videographer, Luke Thomas, describes his run-in with badged authority while covering a meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

At around 3:35 pm yesterday, I was documenting for FCJ a commendation ceremony for Ricardo Peña and Connie Rivera (Aztec dance teachers) during the weekly Board of Supervisors meeting. As part of the ceremony, Peña and Rivera performed an Aztec dance for the Board which I proceeded to document on video.  At the end of the performance, Supervisor David Campos approached the dancers so I changed my position from behind the drummer to get a clearer shot of Campos and the dancers. 

At this point, Deputy Sheriff Thompson (badge #1133) insisted that I "back up" from my position.  I honored his request and stepped back a yard or so.  He then asked me again to step back even further causing me to complain to him that he was preventing me doing my job as a member of the press.

"You can't stop me from filming this," I told him, to which he responded, "I can stop you from getting in the way, which is what I'm doing."

Following this exchange, Thompson then dug his left hand fingers into my right side that caused an excrutiating pain and literally pulled me by my skin and flesh outside Board chambers like a dog on a leash.  Another deputy immediately stepped in and told Thompson to "slow down," recognizing Thompson's aggression was unwarranted.

Outside Board chambers, he grabbed my left arm and told me stop filming, which I refused.

"You just assaulted me," I told him.  To which he responded, "I asked you to step outside."

"Let go of my arm," I said. "Unless you're going to arrest me, let go of my arm."

He then let go of my arm.

Since I was not under arrest, I proceeded to walk away but then he grabbed me again by the arm and said, "I'm not finished with you. Listen to me, I'm a police officer and I want to speak with you so I'm detaining you right here."

"For what reason? For what purpose?" I responded.

"Because, in that chamber, there are rules that you will obey. I don't care who you think you work for, or who you think you are," Thompson said.

"Do you want to see the marks you've left on my body?" I asked.

I've uploaded a video of the exchange at the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qrae3cr6GSM

Though not shown on the video, after Thompson consulted with Sheriff Sergeant Erdman, he returned to apologize for the assault.

The nature of my injuries, which you will see on the video, include a quarter sized area of broken skin surrounded by reddish contusions.

The Brown Act does not give police or security guards the judgment call on where camera operators can stand. Instead it states, in Government Code Section 54953.5 (a):


Any person attending an open and public meeting of a legislative body of a local agency shall have the right to record the proceedings with an audio or video tape recorder or a still or motion picture camera in the absence of a reasonable finding by the legislative body of the local agency that the recording cannot continue without noise, illumination, or obstruction of view that constitutes, or would constitute, a persistent disruption of the proceedings.

(Emphasis added)