Seattle Newspaper Editor Threatened With Arrest for Taking Photos of Police


Dominic Holden is the News Editor for the Seattle area newspaper The Stranger, and he was recently threatened with arrest and workplace harassment by some local police officers for standing on a public sidewalk and taking their picture.

The incident took place two days ago at Fourth Avenue South and South Jackson Street when Holden, who was riding his bike, came upon a group of officers speaking loudly at a man sitting down in the King County Metro’s International District Station plaza.

As a reporter, his first instinct was to get his cell phone out and snap this photo:


Once the man got up and left, one of the officers noticed Holden and his camera, and Sergeant Patrick “K.C.” Saulet of the King County Sheriff’s Office immediately rushed over to tell him to leave or be arrested.

“Commuters, shoppers, and vagrants were milling about the sidewalk and plaza — some people were passing closer to the center of the police activity than I was,” writes Holden. “But I was the only one on that busy block told to leave (the guy watching the police and taking their picture).”

The altercation escalated from there, with officer Saulet continuing to threaten Holden with arrest even after he had stepped back off of plaza property and onto a public sidewalk. Although he was fairly certain he was well within his rights, Holden eventually rode his bike across the street as he had no interest in being arrested.

When he then attempted to find out who was in charge, Seattle police officer John Marion refused to answer his questions, asked Holden for his business card, and threatened to go to Holden’s office and “bother you while you’re at work.” Fortunately, although officer Marion did become physically agitated, nothing escalated into physical violence.

Another two photos snapped by Holden, showing officers Saulet (left) and Marion (right) becoming agitated with him.

Another two photos snapped by Holden, showing officers Saulet (left) and Marion (right) becoming agitated with him.

Although he admits this is a minor altercation relative to some he’s heard of/reported on, Holden is spreading the word because “minor incidents like this shouldn’t be happening in the first place — and some minor incidents turn into major incidents.” He continues on to say that he “bet[s] this sort of harassment happens every day,” he just happens to have a platform from which to spread the word.

Speaking with King County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Sergeant Cindi West afterwards, he was told via email that “in general a person cannot be ordered to stop photographing or to leave property if they have a legal right to be there.”

He has been asked to file a complaint with the county sheriff’s office (which he intends to do) and the SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability has already gotten in touch with him regarding officer Marion’s conduct. He has promised to write about the disciplinary process itself as he continues to work with the Accountability office.

Head over to The Stranger for a full, in-depth account written by Holden himself.

Image credit: Seattle Police Office by City of Seattle. Photos of the scene and officers Saulet and Marion by Dominic Holden.

  • anncoultersadamsapple

    They’re both wrong. I get that police forces are super-paranoid about photos making them look bad (it’s super easy for any photo of police action to be taken out of context), but they need to suck it up and worry more about the bad press that comes from stories like this. As for the newspaper guy, you had every right to take that photo but… really? you thought that was newsworthy? You sure you weren’t looking to make some news yourself?

  • Dov

    No seriously your not getting this. Only the officer is wrong here, if your suggesting exercising the right to take a photograph of the police in action or not constitutes harassment of an officer then there is a larger problem that we live in a police state.

    You get that the police are super paranoid ? if thats the case what are they so paranoid about other than orders to do things that may be illegal.
    Like intimidating a citizen from using their rights.

  • CrackerJacker

    Read Dom’s article. In Seattle there has been a big problem with police escalation of violence, resulting in deaths. The feds are involved with making them fix the issue.

    “When the US Department of Justice alleged that the Seattle Police
    Department was routinely using excessive force, federal prosecutors
    stressed in their report that officers were escalating ordinary interactions
    into volatile, sometimes violent, situations. Now a federal court
    controls the SPD under a reform plan, and the King County Sheriff’s
    Department has faced extensive scrutiny for officer misconduct, so the two agencies should be showing more civility on the beat. Or so you’d think.”

    The 8 cops surrounding what appears to be a docile man seems hinky (would it take 8 cops to surround a white guy?) and as a newsman in the city, Dom knew that.

  • anncoultersadamsapple

    That changes my mind about the nature of the photo.

  • anncoultersadamsapple

    Let me rephrase things a bit. The SPD is DEFINITELY in the wrong for acting the way they did. Inexcusable.

    Now, personally, I’m always a little bit suspicious of reporters making stories about themselves… Is that as bad as what the police did? Heck no, but it’s still a violation of the public trust a certain degree (and bad for journalism on a whole). Is that the case here? Did the reporter take a seemingly innocuous situation and intentional escalate it to get material to write about? Based on what Crackerjack says, probably not, though my comment was written before he wrote his.

    There, is that better for you?

    As for the issue of police brutality, that’s a horrific thing that I didn’t intend to comment on in any way (because, seriously, how could anyone try or want to defend such a thing?)

  • catfishb52

    Really makes you want to visit the city as a tourist. When is the word going to get out to these cops — No matter how you want it we can snap your photo because the Supreme Court says we can. Seattle has a terrible history of using excessive force. That’s the real reason they don’t want photos taken. Look at the picture of Marion in the article above – It looks like he’s getting ready to draw down on someone. He does not look stable. It doesn’t appear much different with Holden although I can’t fully see his weapon. From those two pictures I would guess that Seattle cops are taught to oppose cameras with their guns.

  • Robert Johnson

    I was there 2 weeks ago and had no issues with a camera. Even took some photos WITH cops and them working the beat. Maybe I got the good ones but they were more friendly than the TSA people in the airports.

  • jrconner

    Before you photograph that constable in Seattle, make sure you’ve memorized the phone numbers of your defense attorney and bail bondsman.

  • Woody ONeal

    What’s repulsive is that police routinely use surveillance footage to nab criminals, but when the lens is pointed on them, that’s a different story altogether.

  • Bill McKenzie

    This type of stuff from cops and law enforcement types seems to becoming more and more common unfortunately.

  • Rob Elliott

    Dude why bring race into it? Not everything that happens to a black person is racist.

    In this case I don’t think black or white it makes a difference the police have an excessive number of officers there period.

  • Vermont Devil

    Yeah go ahead file the complaints. After investigation they’ll band together and say “no misconduct was found and that the officers acted properly within the rules” blah blah. Same old bs.

  • Benicio Murray

    I dont blame the cops directly. This culture of attitude comes down from their superiors and management. All of which is leading to this aggressive and dangerous US v THEM attitude IMO.

  • Bob Dunkin

    While the culture does come from above, they are all trained BEFORE that point in what is law and what is not. So, yes, while they ‘learn’ on the job, they ALSO need to remember their training. If their training does not match with what they are being told, then they have the OBLIGATION to either question it, or not follow through… (but they don’t due to the same culture).
    These officers are more than old enough to make decisions for themselves. The only way to get to the bottom of situations like this IS to blame the individual officers directly. Then, and ONLY then, will the situation have any chance of getting better.

  • EK
  • Sarpent

    This won’t stop until there are real and serious legal repercussions for police officers who break this law. Until then, there is effectively no right to photograph, and police officers know this.

  • Rabi Abonour

    No it won’t. No cop is going to infringe on your rights, then when presented with a piece of paper say “Oh, sorry, never mind.”

  • Benicio Murray

    well said. I still think it’s management that promote this culture and are ultimately responsible for it.

  • Bob Dunkin

    Oh, they are too…but if the front line isn’t held to account, then there’s no way you can hold those behind them to account.

  • Bob Dunkin

    … side note to any comment I may make here… We’re (Toronto) currently dealing with a situation where a young man was killed on a streetcar by police. Seemingly, the ONLY reason why he’s being held to account right now (and more than one investigation on-going) is BECAUSE of citizen video. And it’s because of the video evidence that a potential cover-up was discovered and believable. AFTER 9 shots were taken at the suspect (victim), and being felled after the first three (so, 6 shots taken in the interim)…THEN he was tazered. If NOT for the video, the Tazer shot could have easily been said to have happened first…

  • Bob Mulholland

    I’ve been stopped by law enforcement six times in the past year simply for having a camera. The cops are just plain wrong and try to use intimidation tactics, which no longer work on me.

  • Bob Mulholland

    No, each person should take personal responsibility. Blaming someone else is the same cop out it’s always been.

  • Mike

    Police in Toronto did a huge favor to taxpayer by killing criminal or madmen. And no one was prevented from shooting video of the incident.

  • Bob Dunkin

    Not why I posted that, and not a debate I’m willing to have here. Sorry.

  • George

    When they threaten you, Stand Your Ground.

  • weensplosion

    lmao so now its illegal to take a picture of a cop?

  • CrackerJacker

    Because it is a real issue in Seattle with the police. That’s why, dude.

  • dan110024

    Six times in the past year? You’d have to start to wonder if you are asking for it rather than it ‘just happening’.

  • dan110024

    With everyone complaining that offenders get off lightly ‘these days’, I can’t work it out when people get all cranky when police do actually use excessive force. I know, this man (apparently) looked docile, but no one except the police officers know the situation. A picture may tell a thousand words, but it also leaves a hell of a lot up to assumption.

    At the end of the day, respect the law and you’ll be fine. Almost every video or story of police ‘abusing power’ has had something, big or small, that has set them off.

  • Paul

    If we want to make this a war, we’ll get a war, and we’ll lose the war.

  • D.G. Brown

    As a tourist, you should be fine. For the most part, tourists stick out like crazy in Seattle and the police will be super nice.

    One thing about Seattle is that the way people are treated (by each other and by groups like the police) tends to vary significantly. Areas with traditionally lower income and/or more homelessness are the areas that see the most police confrontations. The more artsy/hipster areas also tend to have a tenuous relationship with authority at times, though not as bad (I don’t know this reporter, but I’m guessing since he works for the Stranger that he would be that type and might get treated as such). Tourists, office workers, techies, suburbanites, etc tend to get treated well (I live/work in eastside and officers are almost always nice to me when I’m in Seattle).

    Not that it’s right, it just tends to be the way it is. It also seems to generally be both ways (it’s a chicken and egg thing with officers being treated badly and police-escalated confrontation).

  • nope

    Mandatory steroid testing for cops. Now.

  • nope

    Hell, it’s a real issue with almost every PD in the country.

  • CrackerJacker

    I didn’t want to blow Rob’s mind all at once. ;)

  • Videre Licet

    Asking for it?

    You mean something like a girl who gets raped was asking for it because she wore a short skirt, or something along those lines?

  • Videre Licet

    Like taking photos? Or is because he was taking photos outside, in public? Or is it because he was taking photos outside in public late at night?

    So which law did he disrespect? AFAIK, there is no law against taking photos in public and currently there is no curfew anywhere in the US. There is no law that requires carrying an ID, much less showing it on demand (except while driving).

    So, what exactly was it that set the cops off in this particular instance?

    And Hell yes, we should get “all cranky” when the police use excessive force, no matter what the transgression. They are the proverbial pros, they are supposed to use only as much force as necessary in a give situation. They are supposed to be trained to that effect. What’s more, they are supposed to protect us from bullies and thugs when we are out and about in public at any hour, that’s what we all pay them for. They are NOT supposed to be bullies and thugs themselves and they are definitely NOT supposed to use excessive force on anybody.

  • Videre Licet

    It will stop once they are made PERSONALLY liable for their actions, just like the rest of us, both criminally and financially.

    And on top of that, they should be held criminally liable for the dereliction of duty and given all the possible enhancements such as improper use of weapons, threat of using lethal force, aggravated physical assault and such, because they have been given the trust and the rights that nobody else has in order to keep us all safe from such behavior.

  • Rob Elliott

    I’ve learned that people who make this argument don’t care what the facts are, if a black person is involved they just assume it is racism, not the other items.

    I saw this image I saw several officers surround a man that look homeless or low income. When I read your comment I looked back up and realized he was black. Wasn’t something that entered my brain.

    To me this is more about Income Class and a institutionalized abuse of power by police, not race. But hey I’m Canadian

  • CrackerJacker

    OK, let’s talk assumptions. What makes him look homeless or low income? The only distinguishing things I can make out from the image is that he’s wearing a black hoodie and a watch or maybe a bracelet on his left arm. Nowhere in the post above or the original does it identify him as either homeless or low income.

    What made you see what you saw?

  • jonathan

    beat this concept to death guys. beat. it. to. death.

  • ramanauskas

    So your advice is, give up all your rights and freedoms now, because it’ll be easier?

    You’ll make a good slave.

  • Paul

    No, I should be a hero and a martyr for this great cause by pointing my camera at police to agitate them. (I’m being sarcastic.) I’m not buying the paranoia theory that we’re turning into a totalitarian state because police do things like request that we clear the area or show identification. If the cable guys ask me to move my car so they can work on a telephone pole, I don’t say, “I have my rights, and my car shall stay here on this public street.” I simply move the car for them. But if the police are doing their work, I refuse to cooperate, because I have a problem with authority?

  • Bewar3them00n

    It’s not just in the USA that Police seem paranoid, I was a recent FA CUP semi final ( Man City v Chelsea) I took my DSLR along to document some of the day, on the way out to the tube station there was a line of Police, holding fans back, I took a photo because it looked visually interesting, I then got an officer chasing after me asking why I was taking a photo, my heart was beating fast for a few seconds I can tell you! when I explained I just documenting the day, and that there was no malice intended, he visibly relaxed, I reassured him that I had no complaints about the way the Police had handled the day, and we chatted a bit longer about the last time I was at Wembley for an FA Cup Semi (2011) when there was violence after the game and no Police seemingly around. Now, I’m not anti Police, or pro. I’ve had recent good experiences with local Police, and bad experiences of being dragged off the street and flung into the back of a car for no apparent reason ( I ended up in court which got thrown out and I was personally apologised to by the Magistrate)
    Police are just people, and we know that some people go power tripping on the smallest amount of power.

  • Jake

    This is wrong. I am a cop in the largest city in Colorado and a Police Officer does not have the right to tell a photographer to stop photographing or taking a video. I’m not quite sure why this still goes on because when it does it makes all LEO’s look bad. This is a training issue that needs to be fixed. I am photographed all the
    time and it is never an issue. I have had several gang shootings over the
    summer and on a couple of those incidents the media did respond to the scene to
    document the event. There have been times where either myself, or one of my
    co-workers have politely answered questions that the media may have had.

    The only instance where someone could be asked to stop photographing is on private property and in order for that to happen the photographer is suppose to be asked by the individual who owns the property, not the police. If in the event the
    photographer refuses to stop photographing, by that point if he/she is asked to
    leave and refuses, it could then potentially become a trespass incident. Short of that if the photographer leaves the private property and photographs the same scene from a public location that is completely legal to do.

    The only argument I could see with someone photographing a scene is that an officer could see it as an officer safety issue, but quite honestly that is hard to articulate in strictly photography/videographer situations, especially when all the person is doing is taking a photograph.

    People here are making all kinds of comments about police officers being paranoid, incompetent and stupid. Please try not to judge. Sure, there are definitely men and woman who wear a uniform who have those characteristics but it isn’t the majority by any means. As a pathetic joke we say in my department that every district
    (100-200 officers per district) has “that guy” (asshole cops). There is usually about 4-6 of those idiots that makes us all look bad. Believe me
    when I say it we not only hate having those officers on the job, we also hate working with them on calls.

    Furthermore, Since I have been on the job I have been punched in the face on five different occasions, hit with a bat that cracked one of my ribs because I didn’t have my vest on, almost run over, shot at and stabbed (not seriously but it could have been). There were many other instances where my life was on the line but those are a few examples.

    My point in saying that is that as a cop you have to be very cautious, there are a lot of crazy people in the world with ill intentions. The majority of the time as an officer I am not dealing with “you”, “you” being the decent citizens who would never do those things or attempt to harm me. I am largely dealing with the five-to-ten percent of people who barely care about themselves, let alone care about anyone else. I can’t tell who that five-to-ten percent is verses “you” in most cases because it isn’t exclusive to one race, sex or group of people. The five-to-ten percent of people does not always let us know who they are. For the most part when I am dealing with normal people it’s because they are the victims of crimes. The majority of my time is spent dealing with the five-to-ten percent of the people I am talking about such as the drug dealers, robbers, sex offenders (lots and lots of them), abusers, gang stuff, the mentally disturbed, child abusers and the list goes on. When you constantly deal with people of that nature, especially when you have been harmed in the process, the way you approach and react around strangers does change. It has to change, if it doesn’t you won’t survive very long.

    I say this not to try and justify some of the stupid things cops have done, but there is usually more to the story than what meets the eye. Sometimes when a cop does something that most people assume to be questionable there is a valid and logical explanation on why that decision was made, even if most people don’t understand why. I’m sure the people who decided to read this ridiculously long post (sorry for that) can think of times where they have made a professional decision that wasn’t popular amongst others outside their sphere of knowledge or abilities, but nonetheless the decision they made was made for a reason and they were probably right in what they chose to do.

    Yes it is true that we have earned our reputations, especially the negative ones. I say we because one cop doing something so ridiculously
    corrosive represents our profession as a whole just due to nature of the
    uniform we wear and puts a black label on all of us, even without direct
    knowledge or participation in what that action was (Rodney King as an example).

    There are been times when I walked into work and heard a story of a cop doing something stupid and just said “please fire this idiot”, at least if it was provable and not just an accusation. I always hear people say things like “that cop should lose his job” and “that cop should have never have been an officer” when referring to an officer who either went above and beyond the scope of his duty, or just completely did something dumb and illegal. Almost all of the cops I know would agree. That is “that guy” that I had to go on a call with and either received a complaint because he was rude or unprofessional, or something more severe. In many of these instances it isn’t the Police Departments fault (to be fair sometimes it is). The police department will fire “that guy” in a heartbeat to avoid bad publicity or a lawsuit if he is wrong. The problem is that in many of these cases a police union, or a civil service commission makes it incredibly hard to fire “that guy”. BTW, Just because someone complains that they were violated by the police doesn’t mean that what they were and they what they are saying is the true. There is usually
    the story of party A and party B and somewhere in the middle of that mess is
    where the truth can be found.

    We are normal people with friends and family just like everyone else.
    Some of us are even professional photographers too. When I leave this job (PD) I plan on continuing this profession fulltime because it is such an amazing thing to do.

    BTW, I do apologize for any grammar issues. I wrote this on my iPhone
    4S and there is no way I am going to go back and read this whole thing on this
    little screen.

  • Alex

    How dare this mere mundane Holden try to question and record our tax eating betters, our rulers in blue, our best of the best, our couragous public servants in government jumpsuits – while at least 7 of them risk their precious all important lives totally outmatched by 1 hippie looking kid reading his book?