Nearly everyone carries a cell phone and it’s hard to find one without that camera feature. It’s convenient when you want to take that impromptu photo, but a Tri-Cities area man ended up behind bars after snapping a shot of a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop.
The cell phone photographer says the arrest was intimidation, but the deputy says he feared for his life.
“Here’s a guy who takes me out of the car and arrests me in front of my kids. For what? To take a picture of a police officer?” said Scott Conover.
A Johnson County sheriff’s deputy arrested Scott Conover for unlawful photography.
“He says you took a picture of me. It’s illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer,” said Conover.
Conover took a picture of a sheriff’s deputy on the side of the road on a traffic stop. Conover was stunned by the charge.
“This is a public highway,” said Conover.
And it was not a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy as Tennessee code states. The deputy also asked Conover to delete the picture three times.
“He said if you don’t give it to me, you’re going to jail,” said Conover.
Under the advice of the Johnson County attorney, the sheriff would not comment and the arresting deputy said he didn’t want to incriminate himself by talking to us.
In an affidavit, the deputy said he saw something black with a red light which he thought was a threat. Conover was also arrested for pointing a laser at a law enforcement officer.
“At no time did I have a laser. I had an iPhone,” said Conover.
When you take a picture in the dark with Conover’s Apple iPhone, there is no flash or any light that comes from the phone that could be mistaken for a laser.
In a witness statement by a Mountain City officer, is says the deputy asked about the picture rather than looking for a laser.
“If you arrested me, wouldn’t you take the laser? If you arrested me, wouldn’t you take the camera?” said Conover.
He expects these charges to be dismissed.
“This guy maliciously arrested me, charging me with phony charges that he don’t even understand himself,” Conover said.
The American Civil Liberties Union would not comment on Conover’s case without fully reviewing the allegations, but told us there is no law that prohibits anyone from taking photographs in public areas, even of police. Taking photos is protected by the First Amendment. Conover is ordered to appear in a Johnson County court on August 6th.
A good resource utilized by photographers that gives an overview of a photographer’s rights can be found here.