Baltimore Officers Make Up Laws and Detain Student for Photography

29-year-old student and avid photographer Christopher Fussell was taking photographs of trains at a Baltimore station back in March when he was confronted by Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) officers. He was able to record the conversation, which shows the officers having a complete lack of understanding of laws and photographers’ rights. Fussell writes,

I have no qualms with MTA Police inquiring what I’m doing, but the fact that they took it to the next level with so many lies, unreasonable detainment, denying my boarding of my train that caused me to be delayed and following me to delay me further; this whole episode of theirs was unprofessional and perhaps unconstitutional. I am posting this video in hopes to further strengthen photographer’s constitutional rights.

The story has since become a pretty big deal after the video went viral online, with the MTA admitting that the officer had incorrectly cited the Patriot Act and other laws. The American Civil Liberties Union has also sided with Fussell and may sue MTA over his detainment.

  • Sam Wallace

    10:00 mark the cop starts to criticize his speech? He’s hearing impaired!! What an @$$hole.

  • Holliewinnard

    This is so sad.. These cops are on some sort of power high. Isn’t there REAL crime going on in Baltimore they could be helping instead of harassing this poor gentleman . Bullies..

  • Steve S

    I see your point about maybe having to exercise the limits of our rights occasionally in order to preserve them, and maybe that was his objective. But as routine behavior goes, the world works as well as it does in part because people accommodate each other by doing more than the minimum. Imagine if he had walked up to the cop to ask directions and the cop said “No, I don’t have to give you directions.” He’d be within his rights, but also kind of an asshole. (Not that I’m saying the kid was an asshole—just needlessly confrontational, unless that was his objective.)

  • Bob Dunkin

    “The kid was doing nothing wrong.. But seriously.. he only invited this upon himself.”

    If I’m doing nothing illegal, and an officer tells me to stop, I’m going to acknowledge him, then ignore him.  Anything more than that means your giving up your rights voluntarily (situations may vary of course…).  Even telling you to stop is over-stepping his legal authority.  Its not about preventing them from doing their job, it’s not about being a douche, it’s simply to keep them in line with the powers that WE give them. 

  • Bilbo

    Really? You seriously believe this is the photogs fault? If you don’t defend your rights then you frankly deserve to lose them.

  • Who8dapple

    It would have probably NOT escalated as far as it did, HAD he provided his personal identification as asked by the MTA! 

  • Anonymous

    Power trip against a hearing impaired AMERICAN CITIZEN!  Hope they fire them, take away the huge pensions they get and make sure they never work in law enforcement again.  Way to go Christopher.  Stand up for the rights guaranteed to you by our Constitution and never back down brother!!

  • Patriotinpdx

    Good for him for standing up. You can’t just arrest people for nothing. He didn’t break any laws. They couldn’t quote a statute.  If police make up laws and then harass people, we are all in danger.  Good for you Christopher. Thanks for having courage here.

  • Anna

    Art is NOT A CRIME!!!!!!

  • JD


  • 6ix

    Agreed – Fussel made his own mess. I do no think the cops were out of line.    I am a pro photographer and I have photographed public infrastructure,  people, parks, monuments, train stations, all over the country.  I have encountered many officers in the line of dute and the  few times I have been asked what I was doing or doing it for,  I was polite, cooperative and friendly and not once was I hassled.  The only time I came close was  I encountered a relatively unfriendly and  armed  TSA security officer at O’Hare airport, he asked me why I was walking around the airport taking photos.     I offered him my ID and business card and after a quick explanation that of what I was doing, he was cool with it. He did mention next time to get a permit,  but thanked me for being cooperative.        Cops and security people deal with idiots all day long.   Cooperation goes a long way, even if you know they are not 100% accurate.   They are humans too and they make mistakes.   Common sense says that if you come back at police with an attitude or “I got my rights” it  will immediately escalate any situation with law enforcement and we all know where that ends up.     Bottom line, Fussel was stupid.   Didn’t help that he sounded like Milton from Office Space.            

  • Marc

    First of all, I am a youngish baby boomer.  Our generation was the first to publicly demand that our government be open and accountable to the people… think Viet Nam and Watergate and remember the saying, “question authority”. 

    The events of 911 and subsequent terrorism attacks have spawned an era of fear, as exemplified by the Patriot Act and the blind acceptance of loss of personal liberties.  In that regard, the terrorists have won a huge victory by spreading fear in an otherwise free nation.  So I applaud Christopher for standing his ground as a free citizen.  I might have handled it a little differently, myself, but Chris was within his legal rights.  The officers are just people, trying to do their job.  I probably would have been forthright in identifying myself and stating my purpose so that I might enlist the officer to embrace my legitimacy. Though in the end, like Chris, I would have still stood ground with respects to my right to be there. 

    I also have always been appalled by acts of micro power, where people extend authority they do not have, whether well intentioned or not.  In this case, the officer was misquoting the Patriot Act, which I doubt he ever read.  But it sounded good to him as a means to inappropriately reinforce his authority.

    Here is a valuable bit of advice from Bert P. Krages II, Attorney at Law

    “The Photographer’s Right”

    A Downloadable Flyer Explaining Your Rights When Stopped or Confronted for Photography

                                           Print it out and carry it in your camera bag.

    Cheers, MARC

  • Photography

    Love it!!!! 

  • Irritated

    I really enjoy the officer’s action of clicking the handcuffs….intimidation tactics at it’s finest. Now I have graduated police academy in Massachusetts, and I work for a hospital. Part of my job is to instruct people that they are not allowed to photograph on the hospital property.

    With that said, I am also a freelance photojournalist and an avid photographer in my free time. These officers need to go back to school. The minute you step out of the front door of your house and into the “public” setting, your expectation of privacy is GONE. Even in your own personal vehicle there is no expectation of privacy. So their “wiretapping” references are bogus.

    Now if this gentleman was across the street taking pictures, would they have stepped across the street to detain and question him? Standing on a public sidewalk taking pictures of a train that is pulling into an open-air train station, is that a crime?

    So what these officers are trying to tell me is that since 9/11 – planes, trains, automobiles, buildings, police officers, firefighters, etc – it is illegal to photograph these things? So since they used photographs to do recon work for the terrorist attacks, does that mean I can’t go out and take flying lessons?? Do I have to show proof that I am going to be a commercial pilot? Why can’t I just want to learn how to fly a plane?

    Give me a break…..

  • Photographer

    “And when the officer asks me to point out which houses Jews live in, I’ll be happy to help him figure out who to take to the concentration camp”

    I’m guessing its been a while since you read 1984 or Animal Farm… Police are there to protect us, not harass law-abiding citizens who happen to be doing something Police don’t like.

  • Paul

    straw man.

  • proshooter69

    bah what bullshit – all this could have been avoided by showing I.D and explaining politely what he was shooting and why.

  • Sceptical

    Actually, it *is* nonsense in a free society. If they have no suspicion of a crime being committed, and these officers were unable to state such a suspicion, they have no more right to demand anyone’s identification than you or I do.

  • Sceptical

    Not everyone is as eager to lick boots as you are, Paul. The plain fact is that they were inventing statutes from their faulty understanding of the law, using THEIR power to be rude and inconsiderate, and needed to be checked, quite obviously. Any person, whether elderly, adolescent or incompetent, who didn’t wish to be filmed by him were perfectly capable of avoiding his camera. They chose to to stand in front of his camera and thus chose to be recorded.

  • Sceptical

    Not everyone is as eager to lick boots as you are, Paul. The plain fact is that they were inventing statutes from their faulty understanding of the law, using THEIR power to be rude and inconsiderate, and needed to be checked, quite obviously. Any person, whether elderly, adolescent or incompetent, who didn’t wish to be filmed by him were perfectly capable of avoiding his camera. They chose to to stand in front of his camera and thus chose to be recorded.

  • Sceptical

    No, the meaning is quite tightly intact. When a person presumes to give you orders, threatens you with handcuffs and lawsuits, insinuates that you are a threat to society and calls for his gang to assist him in case he wants to get physical with you, I think the term “bully,” both as a noun and verb, is quite squarely appropriate.

  • Sceptical

    Not entirely, and thus not at all. The quite cogent contention is that the MTA was *harassing* a thoroughly law-abiding person, and that this is precisely NOT their job.

  • Sceptical

    Police have a stubborn habit of deciding unilaterally what constitutes “proper behavior” for *all* sides. This afternoon, they may indeed deem it proper that you be ordered to the other side of the street. Tonight, they may deem it entirely proper that they enter your house. Would you comply with a policeman’s casual and respectful request to enter your bedroom? How about to search your closet or examine your cell phone? What’s YOUR limit, Paul? When would you begin to feel that your notion of “proper behavior” was at odds with theirs?

  • Sceptical

    Baltimore MTA *will* step up to the plate for a thoroughly deserved judgement against them in court at the hands of the ACLU. The officers actually made NO correct references to ANY “legislature” that required the photographer to stop recording or produce his ID. Those were extra-legal–illegal, in fact–requests, and the MTA will be told so by a judge shortly, just as, apparently, their lawyers told them upon review. The photographer here seemed well acquainted with the law, well more acquainted with it than the incompetent officers he filmed. There is every reason NOT to cooperate with illegal, pointless & incompetent proceedings, and I encourage all people–photographers included–to refuse to comply with them. It’s how American civil liberties are won & maintained, Tatyana.

  • Sceptical

    Actually, the issue concerns the *lack* of authority. As was immediately conceded by the MTA itself, their officers had NO authority to detain, question or demand ID from the photographer. I do not wish to obstruct your desire to genuflect before whomever you wish, Paul–in fact, I encourage you to do so if it makes you feel more comfortable. However, you overstep when you demand that we do the same.

  • Xxx

    You’re an idiot. He didn’t break the law and does not have to submit to police harassment.

  • Guest

    First of all what no one has commented on is the MTA’s reference to 9/11.  Yes, it was a tragic event in US history, but come one people, its now 2012.  11years later and people are still going on about it.  Enough is enough.  Weird thing is that those terrorists didn’t go out and photography the buildings they went into.  There has been no evidence supporting that theory.  A public place is your right to take all the required pictures you want.  If that wasn’t the case then every tourist you see, would be stopped and detained to check out as they are a threat to security by them taking pictures of all the wonderful monuments, structures etc…   The point that I am trying to make is stop with the reference to 9/11 and using that as an excuse.  There are terrible things that happen in this world, and you have to pick yourself up and move on.  Stop living in the past.    

  • K-35

    On “It’s basic respect. He should have produced his identification, and he
    should have honored the request to stop recording the officer.”

    BULLSHITTT!!!!!, Paul.

    No-one, I repeat, no-one, has to “respect” a “pohleesss” officer’s demand that he stop recording a cop’s actions. Those imaged and sound-recorded actions are to be deemed **EVIDENCE** which could be used in court against the cop. And the coppers might say, “Why do they hate us?” I just gave you a reason from a potential arrestee’s point-of view.

    Certain laws are not to be made, even if currently permitted by the Constitution: they pertain to forbidding the image and sound recording of law enforcement actions while the recordist is on/in publicly-accessible property (A possible exception might be on a military post for national military security purposes)

  • Seth

    yes there is that level of basic respect between people but its the idiots like you Paul, that are quick to make assumptions. that man committed no wrong doings and was on public property as a ticketed passenger of the transit agency.. and there will be no creations of laws that restrict the rights geared to us under the freedom of the 1st amendment. it is the idiots like you that run your mouths that enact people too look at you funny. While your comments are ok because your using your right to free speech. according to Flex Your, “As of 2013, 24 states had stop-and-identify laws. Regardless of your state’s law, keep in mind that police can never compel you to identify yourself without reasonable suspicion to believe you’re involved in illegal activity.” that man was not committing a crime, photography is considered a right that falls under the right of free speech. you only need permission to be on property if your news media or taking pictures and videos for anything other than personal means. also found from flex your, “In a free society, citizens who are minding their own business are not obligated to “show their papers” to police. In fact, in the United States there’s no law requiring citizens to carry identification of any kind.”

    That man is pursuing a hobby for personal reasons. if he was not a ticketed passenger than that you would be one thing. The officers are clearly holding this poor guy up for no reasons other than pure harassment. they know they are wrong. as police officers, they are taking advantage of their boundaries and overdoing the situation.

    citation below for above quotes.

    “When Can Police Ask for ID? – Flex Your Rights.” Flex Your Rights. Flex Your Rights, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

  • Len Wirtanen

    These cops are morons and should be fired. They have no idea of what they are speaking about.