Encounters at the Photographers’ Rights Protest in LA

Unjustified intimidation

After getting harassed at the US Bank Tower last Thursday, Shawn helped organize an impromptu protest for Sunday.

From Pershing Square, we walked up 5th Street toward the US Bank Tower. At this point, I was with Shawn Nee, David Sommars and Angelo Pacella.

Summary and transcription at the Gas Company Tower

Our first confrontation was almost immediate, occurring in front of the Gas Company Tower (Google Maps). The first SG was a older man with a New York accent. What follows is my transcription of the confrontation, along with an audio recording (download here).

Shawn: “You’re enforcing an non-existent law. We can photograph any […] from a public space that’s in public view at any time.”

SG: “Like I said, I’m familiar with all these protests. I’ve lived in Manhattan for 49 years. I’ve seen it all.”

David: “Are you saying it’s illegal?”

SG: “No, I’m saying that the security company here has informed us that if anybody is taking pictures of the building to please ask them to leave. Whether it’s the law or not, you would probably know better than I do.”

Shawn: “The thing is you can ask us to leave, but legally, we don’t have to leave.”


SG: “I’m not gonna make a deal out of it – I’m just doin’ my job! Haha!”

Shawn: “From above, it seems like […] they need to be educated on the laws.”

SG: “Well, I could give you the name of the company and you can do what you want.”

David: “We tried, but […] they don’t respond to emails.”

SG: “Here’s the deal. If you are allowed, why would they tell us to move you guys out?”

Shawn: “Because there’s intimidation. There’s some people that don’t know the law, that will comply – they’ll just obey your order. But we do know the law, and we’re not arguing. We’re just telling you what our rights are.”


SG: “At this point, we’re just going round and round. but i don’t mean any disrespect or anything. I’m just feeding you what they’re feeding me.”

SG: “You pick and choose your battles. This is not a battle.”

SG walks back to the building to tell the other SGs about what we said. Damon arrives, walking from the direction of the US Bank Tower, already harassed by a female SG.

Approximately three minutes later (denoted in the audio with static), a second female SG emerges from the building. (I think Damon later tells us that she’s the same one from the US Bank Tower. Wait, what?)

SG2: “Hello. You guys are aware that this is private property, right?” points finger at the building

David: “This is private property?” points finger down to the sidewalk

SG2: “This is private property.” points finger to the building

David: “This is private property?” points finger down to the sidewalk

SG2: “This is private property.” points finger to the building

David: “Doesn’t matter.”

SG2: “Okay. You’re not supposed to take pictures. You’re violating a code. Did he ask you guys if this is a public property?”

Shawn: “No, it doesn’t matter, we’re on public property.”

SG2: “Yes, you are on public property, but you are taking pictures of our building.”

David: “Call the police.”

SG2: “We have already placed a call to the police.”

Shawn: “What code are we violating?”

Shawn gets talked down

SG2: “Just…just…I’m not gonna go back and forth, but I’m just advising you that we have already placed a call to LAPD, and once they get here, you guys can discuss this with them.”

David: “Would you be willing to make a bet?”

SG2 walks off to talk on her radio some more. She’s gone for five and a half minutes (static).

David decides to call the Central Division of LAPD. When he got an officer on the phone, he walked over to SG2 by the building door so she could talk to them on the phone. She refuses.

David: “Hey you guys. (On the phone) Hello, Officer Johnson? You are with Central Station? Yeah, hold on a second. (To SG2) Sorry, I took it off speaker. You wanna talk to him…?”

SG2: Interrupts mid-sentence “…No, we’re done.”

David: “…I got Officer Johnson at the station right here telling me there’s no law against it.”

SG2: “There’s technically no law against it. But what we’re telling you is it’s private property. And now you’re on private property.”

David: “But you told me a second ago you called the police.”

SG2: “No, what we said was we will call non-emergency.”

SG: “Central Station.”

David: “(On the phone) Sorry about that. Now they’re changing their story.”

SG: “There’s no change.”

David: “He’s got a tape recording of you saying you called the police on us.”

SG2: “That’s fine. I said what we will do is call the police. We’ll call non-emergency.”

David: “You said they’re on their way.”

David: (On the phone) “Ok, sorry Officer, I’m gonna have to let you go because they’re being dishonest.”

SG: “Look. Lemme reiterate. So you wanna tape it, go right ahead. you got your thing goin?”

SG: “I told you that I told the supervisor’s supervisor…”

David: “So, I got no respect for you guys anymore. You’re lying to us in the face.”


SG2: “The fact of the matter is…I said we will call non-emergency but I’m not gonna go…”

Angelo: “We called, too, to find out.”

SG2: “Perfect! You guys can standby…

David: “So you didn’t call the cops. Was that bull****?”

SG2: “We’re not gonna go back and forth.”


SG: “You heard what I said. I’m sure you put it down.”

David: “Don’t worry, you’re cool.”

Angelo: “I don’t know about that.”

David: “I don’t even know if he heard it.”

SG: “I’m over here!”

David: “She said they were on their way.”

SG: “Well that I don’t know.”


This was a fifteen minute “incident,” fit into about six minutes of audio with the “discussion.”

We had more than enough to go with, and we said all we could, so we moved on toward the US Bank Tower.

Learning points

  • Take photos of the security guard(s) harassing you.
  • Record the conversation. If you’re in a public space, there’s no expectation of privacy. It’s legal.
  • If you are recording and with a group of people (like we were), make it easier to transcribe by not interrupting each other. Talk this over beforehand.
  • Ask lots of questions. There’s a good chance they’ll slip up.
  • Do everything you can to get names of the security guard(s), company, and phone numbers.
  • Have the direct, non-emergency phone number of the local police department. If they threaten to call the police, you call them first. If they start to become belligerent, call them.
  • If they run out of steam, have multiple documents on hand for educational purposes. (See the “Know your rights” section for reference.) It’s not entirely their fault, but rather the management and security company that’s giving the orders.

For more details from the next incident at the US Bank Tower, subscribe to Discarted.

Quick summary at the US Bank Tower

Hal arrived near the beginning of that encounter, just in time to record video with his Apple iPhone. I was confronted by Robert first — the same SG from last Thursday. Then an equal amount of security guards came out to match our numbers.


The shift supervisor, Patrick Silver, came out and got into Shawn’s face. (See photo at the top. Shawn happens to be the smallest guy in the group.)

He demanded our identifications.

We were threatened with arrest.

[Patrick Silver] called [us] idiots for wanting to come there and take photos.

David got Officer Johnson (Central Division, LAPD) on the phone again, but [Patrick Silver] didn’t care what the LAPD or any of us had to say.

His body language was threatening over Shawn.

Carlos (a nicer SG) wrote down lots of information in his notepad. David and Damon gave him a lot of fake information.

Robert also harassed another man (William), just minding his own business, walking down the stairs, using his T-Mobile Sidekick.


Near the end, Carlos actually had a civil discussion about the law and what he knows their policy to be. Shawn gave him some papers about the law and civil rights, before we left.

Shawn trying to educate Carlos

Photography is not a crime.

(View the photos from this protest on Flickr.)

For more encounters, information, and future protests:

Update 1/19/2009 11:24pmDiscarted has the US Bank Tower harassment online.

Update 1/21/2009 8:04amDiscarted has the second video of the US Bank Tower harassment online. We were called idiots, “wasting breath” on them.

Update 2/9/2009 6:00pm – Hey PhotoNetCast listeners! Thanks to Brian Auer for the plug. Here’s more on what came from this…

US Bank Tower: The Aftermath, “Maguire Properties” Threatens Me on YouTube, “Maguire Properties” Closes YouTube Account

And, for convenience, the videos:

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan works at Automattic. Cat whisperer. Sometimes, a photographer and card magician.

23 thoughts on “Encounters at the Photographers’ Rights Protest in LA”

  1. (I think Damon later tells us that she’s the same one from the US Bank Tower. Wait, what?)

    Yeah, that’s the deal. You can see her in that first photo with the sidewalk placard in front of the other building. She saw me shoot the plaque from another angle, and headed down the sidewalk. Then, she turned back and started questioning me, and I told her I was shooting photos of the sidewalk.

    I started walking away from her east, and she started the scary radio description thing. I crossed at the corner, and she must have gone into the other building at that point. By the time I crossed the street she was gone, and the other guy was sent to watch me take photos of the library.


  2. I find it funny that you’re taking flack trying to photograph a building in LA, while in the UK I was busy taking pictures of RAF Coningsby without issue.

    Mind you, as a Canadian taking photos in the UK, I would feel more secure than if I was down your way. Something about being in the mother country and still being a subject to the Queen of Canada or something like that.


  3. It certainly sounds like you had fun, more or less. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there, but please post future events here and I’ll try to come whenever possible.

    That Patrick Silver sounds like a real jerk. If I was there, I’d be mailing him everything that Discarted handed to Carlos and a disposable camera on the 18th of each month. It’ll either piss him off, or drive him insane.


  4. Excellent, Bryan. I’m tired of being treated like a suspected terrorist every time I take a picture of buildings that are easily seen by anyone walking down a public sidewalk. It’s like living in the old Soviet Union, and it’s intolerable. I wonder if there will be a more reasonable approach to this after Obama is in office for a while.


  5. I think you guys should really make this an issue with U.S. Bank. Keep going back and keep filming.

    And send these blog posts to the head of the security company as well as top officials at U.S. Bank.

    Keep making this an issue until the mainstream media gets involved and the politicians get involved.

    There is no denying they were wrong because you have the video to prove it.

    And this being the tallest building in L.A., it will set a precedent for all of L.A.

    Look what happened in DC with Union Station.


    Look what is happening in NYC with Penn Station.


    These are instances of change taking place in favor of the photographer.

    Obama is not going to do a damn thing about it because he has his hands full with larger issues.

    It is up to us to ensure these changes take place.


  6. Why waste your breath with these people? They’re doing what their employer tells them to do. You should contact Jan Perry (http://www.lacity.org/council/cd9/cd9ci1.htm), Council district 9 Representative, Eric Garcetti, Council President, the Mayors office and the city Attorney. You should also contact the Central Community Police Station to complain about the harassment. You’re not going to get anywhere debating the finer points of the Constitution with the security guards at these places.


  7. Nice job! I’m an amateur photog who lives downtown… I’d love to join you guys next time you do this. If you have more photographers than security guards, won’t they look silly? How about scheduling it fairly early on a Sunday morning? Will they have multiple guards around? Would the LAPD be more available to come set the security guards straight?


  8. I live in a small town in West Ky. and we have 3 branch offices of US Bank here. I will be going out on Monday to take some local pics. I hope to have some fun with some of the local rent-a-cops here. lol.


  9. “Obama is not going to do a damn thing about it because he has his hands full with larger issues.”

    Since when is a violation of our first amendment rights to free speech a small issue? Thousands have died protecting that right.


  10. you do what you want to do … you know the law far better than I. I’m familiar w/ photographers rights. It just seems to me that you were showing as much intimidation and harassment as the guards. You comment on the lack of respect and guards lieing … when you admit that you gave false information.

    looks kind of shady to me.


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