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.

  • Stefan Heymanns

    It looks like the MTA is already trying to control the damage and the MTA chief agrees that the officers were out of line: 

  • Paul

    When an officer signals for me to pull my car over, I pull it over. When he asks me to put my hands on the steering wheel, I put my hands on the steering wheel.

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

    These types of photographers are going to be responsible for the creation of laws that restrict all photographers.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    What good is the right if you kowtow to such nonsense for fear of loosing the right?

  • Seth Walters

    That’s crap, Paul. If no crime was committed there is no reason to show ID. Christopher did absolutely nothing wrong and the police bullied him. Photography is not a crime!

  • sharpie

    That’s the most ignorant post I’ve read in a long time Paul. Basically you are saying that “these types of photographers” should refrain from taking photographs in these situations. The laws you speak of are not because of the photographer but they are the bollox which is a the patriot act – the most absurd law ever created.

  • Tatyana Skymyrka

    Yours may not be the most popular point of view, but I agree with you 100%. 

    Men in uniform represent an organization, however, they are still men, not lawyers, nor are they authorized to give legal advise.  Their job is to serve and protect.  I think if authorities was really repressive to civilians in USA, we’d see a lot more incidents like this.  After all, millions of us own a camera and use it daily in public places. The escalation of the incident is as much on the photographer as it was on the MTA employees.  It is unfortunate, however, let’s not blow it out of proportion.  Baltimore MTA seems to have step up to the plate already.

    As photogs, let’s take an extra step in educating ourselves about local laws (the officers did make a few correct legislature references), and while not required, let’s do go an extra step to cooperate on a basic human level.  It’s not sacrificing your civil liberties, and those guys can get back to doing the job they’re supposed to sooner.

  • Bob Dunkin

    Maybe I’m a little more jaded because I photographed the G20 in Toronto, since it was practically in my living room (30′ south).  I’ve seen that argument a lot, and it’s bull on a few levels.  First, driving isn’t a right.  You need to be licensed to do it.  The cops aren’t so much asking for your ‘identification’ as they are asking for your license to be doing what you are doing.  Same as if a Fish and Game inspector asked for a fishing license if you were fishing. Respect is a two way street.   The officers, with the photographer knowing he was within his rights, showed ONLY disrespect.  NO matter how nicely things are said or asked for, as long as someone is in the wrong, you’re disrespecting the person in the right.

    As was pointed out in an earlier comment, the officers were in the wrong. 

  • Steven

    I think if he had explained that he was a student and why he was taking pictures of the train, the whole thing wouldn’t have escalated to that level.  

  • Don Faust

    These guys have nothing better to do.  Maybe Baltimore should save some tax dollars and get rid of some police.

  • Paul

    no. i’m saying that “these types of photographers” need to learn some manners. if an elderly or teenage citizen had asked him to stop recording them, he’d have apologized and turned off his camera. but since it was an officer of the law, and rebellion against authority is the religion of the day, he chose to dishonor the officers’ simple requests, hoping for a “situation,” so he could post his little martyr video on youtube.

  • Paul

    it’s not “nonsense” for an officer of the law to ask you for identification.

  • Paul

    that’s really going to wash out the meaning of the word “bully”!

  • Paul

    driving in a car was just one example. if an officer asked me to walk along the other side of the street instead of this side, i’d comply. for that matter, if a photographer asked me to use the other side of the street, i’d probably comply.

    (and in the latter case, christopher and yourself would probably comply as well — your issue is with authority.)

  • Joe Fonebone

    Whilst acknowledging an element of baiting by the student (“Oops, I’ve switched to video record mode and left it on.”), the MTA Officers have not covered themselves in glory by displaying a shocking ignorance of the regulations they are supposed to be enforcing.   As the incident unfolds you can see them digging themselves a bigger and bigger hole whilst trying to convince each other that they’re not in the grave digging business. Don’t know the MTA ranking system but one of those guys even has three stripes!  Worrying to put it mildly.  A competent Officer would have dealt with this matter in one – two minutes tops, no problem.  I doubt we’d have seen that video though.

    I would suggest that they need to go and read up on the rules associated with their job or quit or if they’re not up to it. Perhaps they could become train drivers, I believe they have nice uniforms.  Or students. Of law.

  • Bob Dunkin

    I have no issue with authority.  What I have an issue with is Officers of the law who over-step their authority (in this case making up laws, as was stated by their COMMANDING Officer).  THAT is why if we do not stand up for our rights, and call them on it when they are over-stepping their authority, they get the impression that they can do this.  They can’t.  Pure and simple.  For me, this isn’t ‘just’ about photography either.
    I pretty much have a personal stake in this after 1000 of my fellow citizens were ‘arrested’ here last June.  The police lawyers misinterpreted their powers, passed that on to the officers on the street, and they applied it EVERYWHERE  (when it was for only a small area).  I saw first hand what a slippery slope this this. 

    I’ll throw one more example back:  One of the oft repeated lines is ‘if you have nothing to hide, you should be fine having your bag searched’.  This also works both ways.  If the Officers are doing NOTHING wrong, they should be fine being photographed or videotaped in public performing their job.

  • Sean

    As one of the officers said in the video, dont make a mountain of a molehill. One of the first things you learn as a photographer is people skills, unfortunately this guy lacks it. When they approached the photographer, the officers were polite in their inquiry and were friendly in the first few minutes. Maybe its not mandatory to show ID proof, but being cooperative and friendly would have easily negated blowing this out of proportion. The officers were wrong in the statements they made, but the photographer was just being a douche. 

  • Paul

    i do agree with you that there are expectations for proper behavior from both sides.

  • John

    An arrest (which this was not, but the example applies) is unlawful if a person is arrested for something the arresting officers should have known was not illegal. Police have the legal duty to know the law and if they arrest a person for something which is, in fact, not illegal, it is an unlawful arrest. 

    Here, they detain the photographer in a futile attempt to get the photographer to cave-in to their phony, and ignorant, legal claims.

  • Skinner Photographs

    imagine a world where we may only photograph in private places

  • mike

    Come on guys, It’s just some cops playing thug! If there is no signage at the station and no laws in the state then how is someone supposed to know that filming is illegal.
    Let’s be honest, if you wanted to see images of the trains for any of the quoted activities the cops spoke about you’d either use google street view, or you tube to see it, why put your self at risk?

    But in saying that the cops have a right to ask about what someone is doing if they deem the activity to be suspicious, and the photographer has a right to “check in” with the authorities before filming, to save himself the hassles. It’s just common sense. This guy acted like a douche (thanks Sean) when the cops hit him up and brought all this upon himself, instead of just telling the guys what is happening and letting them move on. Keep the cops happy and it makes you own life easier…

  • Valmet12000

    if you let Cops stomp on your rights and cite ludacrise bogus laws and security issues then your a door mat and deserve to be walked on.

  • Kjboorman

    The wiretapping law doesn’t apply in a public place. The cops were totally in the wrong here. However, I would have shown my ID, said that I have complied, and asked them to leave me alone.

  • Michael

    I’m a photographer, and in this case I’m on the side of the police.  They were polite at first, and yet Fussell was generally rude back.  If he’d have been friendly and polite back, things would likely have been cool.   Fussell has zero people skills.

  • Anonymous

    This is getting rediculous on both sides.  Every other week I see some video about someone recording the cops overstepping their boundaries and at the same time being passive aggressive by not complying to the cops instructions. 

    FOR THE COPS:  They are for safety and security.  They aren’t civil rights lawyers.  They are probably are working off of supervisor’s guidance, ego and basic knowledge of radio codes, otherwise they would be lawyers.  You can’t win an argument with someone that is ignorant of the laws and too arrogant to admit it.

    FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHERS:  What is the problem with showing the cops your ID?  If the cops asks for ID and you aren’t doing anything wrong why not show them?  I could see if the cop said “give me the camera”, then noncompliance isn’t really a choice.

    All this over a crappy photo of a train.  You got DC, and New York.  Who cares about Baltimore?

  • Anonymous

    Agree 100%.  Or even play the “ignorant innocent citizen: role.  Playing the “I know the law” role will never result in a positive outcome.

  • Anonymous

    Identification could be fake.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a public space, it’s his right to film and if he has committed a crime then its admissible as evidence isn’t it? It’s a shame the chap didn’t state as much in the video.

  • Anonymous

    Doubt it, they didn’t believe him when he stated his name, why would they believe him if he stated his profession?

  • Anonymous

    The condescension expressed in ‘Why’ at the beginning already showed a lack of politeness and bias in their approach.

  • Anonymous

    Has done for me. I’m left alone in my City and as far as I know, nobody else is harassed.

  • Fosco

    Cypress Hill – Puercos
    “…Este trabaja en la estacion…”

  • Michael

    I’ve done model shoots all across the US, Canada, UK.  Very occasionally I’ve been approached by police, but always a friendly attitude to them has resulted in a stress free, no hassles encounter.  If I’d have started off with the attitude of this guy, i’m sure the outcome would have been very different.

  • Jefferson

    What a bunch of bullies.

    The Patriot Act is supposed to make us safe, but those who choose safety over freedom deserves neither.

  • Marcus

    The cops thought they were in their right to question and prevent the photographer from taking pictures.  Standing their arguing with them over it isn’t going to benefit either party.  Seriously photographers, if this happens, just do what they say and take the battle to people who are better informed and in a position to help, and do it respectfully.  We aren’t going to win any favors getting militant like this and it’s just going to force stricter laws.

  • Anonymous


  • Frederick W. Redelius

    They have a lot more important things to do, like stop the nearly daily muggings at  the light rail stations, and stabbing on buses and at bus stop. But they don’t they choose instead to harass a person taking a damn photo. This is the 1st time this has happened here I’ve had 3 encounters with various “law enforcement agencies” in Baltimore myself all while taking photos from a public street.

    It’s been my personal experience that it is very hard to reason
    with someone with a gun exercising authority they don’t have and trying to
    enforce laws that don’t exist.  I’ve been told many times that I can’t take pictures in this place or that, when I’m
    standing on a public sidewalk or road. The law enforcement in Baltimore needs
    to get its priorities straight, there’s multiple stabbing and shooting on a
    daily basis, and they can do nothing about it, but somehow find the time and
    resources to hassle somebody taking a photo. If somebody wants a photo of just
    about any square inch of this country you can find it online thanks in large
    part to google maps and google earth. You don’t have to go any farther then
    your computer.


  • CivilPhotographer

    @inthaknow:disqus – In America we are all responsible for knowing each and every law on the books. Realistically that is impossible but a defense of ignorance of the law is never allowed. That is the case for every person in America.

    Now look at this case. These are officers of the law. These people are in a job where they deal with the law each and every day they go to work. They have presumably been trained in the law. In my view they have more of a responsibility to know the law, not less as your statement would appear to support. They may not be civil rights lawyers but if they have the ability to detain and arrest people then they most surely should be well versed in civil rights.

  • CivilPhotographer

    @inthaknow:disqus – In America we are all responsible for knowing each and every law on the books. Realistically that is impossible but a defense of ignorance of the law is never allowed. That is the case for every person in America.

    Now look at this case. These are officers of the law. These people are in a job where they deal with the law each and every day they go to work. They have presumably been trained in the law. In my view they have more of a responsibility to know the law, not less as your statement would appear to support. They may not be civil rights lawyers but if they have the ability to detain and arrest people then they most surely should be well versed in civil rights.

  • CivilPhotographer

    @129d9140511e7c1c629aad749793f17a:disqus  – You couldn’t be more wrong when you say that arguing with them (which the photographer was not doing) isn’t going to benefit either party. The photographer has so far come out victorious. He should now be able to photograph without being detained. His rights were trampled and the head of the MTA has stated that. You can be sure that additional training is now going on. If this happens again to another photographer there will be no second chances to be subjected to, and lose, a hefty civil lawsuit.

    This photographer not only helped himself by standing his ground, but many other photographers not only in Maryland but possibly throughout the country.

    I commend him for his courage and his actions.

  • Ambro77

    Fussell could have perhaps addressed the situation better… but given the arrival of several officers apparently necessary to protect the city from him, I’m surprised it didn’t get worse. He is to be commended for standing his ground respectfully.

    The mention of the Patriot act was a paper tiger meant to intimidate. Sure he could have shown id, but that was his CHOICE unless charged with a crime, of which there was none unless the officers were looking for a way to escalate the situation to justify their actions.

    It’s one thing to enforce the law but quite another to make it up as you go… these guys need more training. Shooting anyone or anything from a public street for non commercial use is legal. I respect the difficult line these officers have to tread everyday, but they were wrong here.

  • Anonymous

    Glad your willing to give up your freedoms so easily. 

    I’m respectful to a point with officers… if the officer doesn’t site you for a legal offense, you don’t have to give any identification. Patriot Act/911 doesn’t have anything about photography within it, but you did bring up the laws of driving, the officer tells you what you did for him to pull you over then asks for you ID and you’re also required by law to show your license… you signed your rights away at the DMV so you can drive! No photographer has signed away their right to photograph in a public area.

    It’s like the “Right to Bear Arms” clause… yeah, I don’t own a gun or anything… but why would it be your right and be written in Constitution way back in the days? No, not so you can go hunting… No, not so you can protect yourself or property… It was put in so if the government became corrupt that the citizens could take back their government by force.

    Maybe you should learn your rights or you can just keep bending over and taking it!

  • Bob Dunkin

    Can I like this about 6 times.  One thing I didn’t mention before is a little confusion I feel around one particular law.  It’s one that oft quoted…and quoted wrong.  What we usually hear is “Failure to obey a command”… what the law REALLY is is “Failure to obey a LAWFUL command”.  Again, hard to argue on the street, but often misunderstood. 

  • Bob Dunkin

    Most cities have some sort of license needed for shoots presumably like yours.  Which the police will likely come by and check on.  I see it all the time living within the vicinity of so many churches (wedding shoots, not model shoots…) and there is usually no problem with those encounters.

  • Eric

    Just remember, for every “bad cop” (remember 50% of all police officers graduated in the bottom 1/2 of their class, they aren’t all super cops,) there are dozens that aren’t. Don’t treat everyone of them like they are “jackbooted gun thugs” or they will start treating everyone with a camera as a threat that needs to be dealt with.

  • Tynewydd1

    MMM…more likely photographers like you (if you are one) that blindly allow this sort of thing to happen will be responsible for laws that restrict all of us that want to do street photography.  Granted-diplomacy is always the best policy-keep your head, be polite, BUT get the picture.

  • Steve S

    Jeez, I’m watching this video and my first thought is “Why doesn’t this guy just show the cops his ID? Is he asking for trouble?”. Being right doesn’t mean it’s smart to throw down right from the get-go. A little amiability would have got him what he wanted and he could have used it as a teachable moment, politely pointing out the legal facts to the cops. Everybody wins. All of us know that photographing in public spaces can generate concern from cops et. al. I’d have ID, a prepared explanation, and maybe some samples of my work ready to present if I got hassled. If that didn’t work, THEN I’d start getting pissed off and maybe being an asshole. Nothing to lose at that point…

    I was once photographing the Italian side of Mt. Blanc (Central Pillar of Freney, Brenva Spur,…) while waiting in line at the tunnel to Chamonix, when an Italian border policeman pointed a submachine guy at me, marched me into the guard shack, opened my camera and stripped out the film. I was very upset but *super* polite…

  • CivilPhotographer


    First of all I don’t believe these officers were in any mood to be taught anything about the law by some kid with a camera.

    If we don’t have people that are willing to stand up for their rights then one day we will live in a society where a police officer can go up to a photographer with a machine gun, take his camera and rip out their film or memory card.

    I can understand why you, or any other person, may not be willing to stick out their neck to prevent this type of action in the future. It is unfortunate that a lack of action will only bring us closer tona time when what is legal today will not be allowed tomorrow.

    What I don’t understand is you insulting someone who is willing to stand up for OUR rights. The photog was nothing but polite during the encounter. Remember that he is hearing impaired so his tone and flexion may not always be spot on. You do not have to produce ID in any jurisdiction just because the police ask or demand. That is usually use that as a first step in their intimidation tactics. Once they know you will obey them when confronted then they know they can manipulate you.

    Again I commend the photog/student for helping, not hindering, our right to photograph.

  • Angus

    We get it. The kid was doing nothing wrong.. But seriously.. he only invited this upon himself. If it he’d been friendlier with the officiers, explained what he was doing, I’d bet they would have left him alone.

    Instead he starts (legally or not) getting all evasive and difficult. Police are trained (officially and unofficially) to question evasive behaviour, its what they do. 

    This kid should get off his Gen-Y high horse and question his own actions as well.

    I am a strong believer in protecting photographers right and an equally stronger believer anti-photgraphy laws are useless (as there are plenty of sneaky ways of getting images of pubic transport without having to bring out a 7D with a  200mm lens).

    No doubt the cops were being bullies, but also not doubt the kid didn’t exactly help his cause. 

  • Marcus

    And you’re going to be part of the problem.  I’ll be sure to thank you when I legitimately get detained for photographing in a public place.

  • Marcus

    And you’re going to be part of the problem.  I’ll be sure to thank you when I legitimately get detained for photographing in a public place.