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Photographer Arrested Taking Pictures of Police Station House in Bushwick

NYPD Arrests Man Photographing Station House
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Randall Thomas

BUSHWICK — A photographer was arrested outside a Bushwick police station after he refused officers' demands to tell them why he was taking pictures, a new video shows.

Cops arrested photographer Shawn Randall Thomas on Central Avenue Saturday afternoon and gave him two summonses for disorderly conduct, records show — but Thomas said he was unlawfully arrested for photographing the building, and has filed a complaint against officers alleging abuse and corruption.

"I wasn't acting up. I was trying to be inconspicuous," said Thomas, who cops charged with two counts of disorderly conduct: obscene language and blocking the driveway of the station.

Thomas, 47, who said he'd been photographing the station for about an hour before his arrest, took a video on his smartphone that shows a plainclothes officer demanding he stop taking pictures of the housing bureau of Police Service Area 3. 

"You're making a lot of people feel very uncomfortable," said the officer (who identified himself as "Officer Soto") in the video. "How do I know you're not a terrorist taking pictures so you can figure out where you're going to put a bomb?"

At that question Thomas responded, "If you think I'm a terrorist then you're an idiot and you shouldn't be a police officer because you're incompetent."

Thomas' arrest, first reported by the website Photography is Not a Crime, came after he had been standing outside the station for about an hour, Thomas said.

"You could see none of the officers in uniform would do anything...basically they sicked the dogs on me," said Thomas of the plainclothes officer they sent to make the arrest. "I was surprised at the manner that it happened...I think at this point all cops know it's legal to take pictures."

Thomas, who sent a complaint to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Civil Rights Bureau Monday, says in the letter that Soto "was clearly engaging in a willful act of harassment, admittedly knowing that he lacked any legal justification to do so."

"When I would walk away from Soto, he would follow and move closer to me," writes Thomas in the letter. "At one point I demanded that he produce identification or disengage, he did neither stating at one point 'I got nothing but 8 ½ hours so I’ll follow you around and stand right in front of you,' an act and statement that constitutes harassment."

The Brooklyn District Attorney's office confirmed they had received the complaint from Thomas, but declined to comment further on the case. The NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But to advocates in the photojournalism world, the video showed Thomas was breaking no laws in his action.

"There's no law that requires a photographer to state his reason for why he’s taking pictures," said Photography is Not a Crime's founder Carlos Miller, who started the blog when he said he too was arrested in Miami for taking photos.

"[Thomas] was just standing on a public sidewalk taking pictures," Miller continued. "This is a big issue."

Thomas was given two summonses and released.  He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 17 to answer the alleged violations.