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Picture taking lawful

Picture taking lawful

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The detention by police of veteran journalist Jeff Trotman at the scene of a fire on December 21st, 2008, on Grenville Street, in Kingstown, has come in for sharp criticism.

Information is that Trotman was asked by Superintendent of Police Rouzendal “Bouncer” Francis to stop taking photographs at the scene and refused.{{more}}

This refusal resulted in, according to Trotman, Francis trying to grab his camera, and after a short tussle, ordering that he be detained at the Central Police Station.

“There is no Law prohibiting anyone from taking photographs in a public place…There appears to be a feeling among some officers of the police that they have a right to stop photographers from taking photographs in public. I am saying, I do not know of any Law in this country that gives the police that power,” said Queen’s Counsel Parnell Campbell last Monday, January 5, on his popular public service television programme “The Law and You”.

The former Attorney General said that Monday’s edition of the programme was in direct response to the story of Trotman’s encounter with the police and based on a request that had been made to him sometime ago by a concerned citizen.

Campbell said that Trotman could have a case for a claim of assault and false imprisonment.

Campbell, who has lectured at various police courses, said that the police had no right to attempt to stop the photographer or seize his camera based on the Laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“…If anybody takes photographs in public, the police have no right to seize the camera, or to attempt to seize the camera or even tell you to stop taking the pictures, because the person taking the photographs will not be violating any Law.”

He also emphasized that this right to take photographs isn’t just for journalists, but any “ordinary person” with a camera.

“It could be that persons in authority have the feeling that they have the right to do what they feel like doing…that feeling does not amount to the existence of a right,” Campbell said.

Meanwhile the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACMW) has also condemned the police’s handling of Trotman, saying that what happened in St Vincent is unfortunately not isolated.

Speaking to SEARCHLIGHT, Vice President of the ACMW, Peter Richards said that the situation pops up in islands throughout the region.

“Some police feel that they have all the powers,” Richards said.

In St Kitts on December 12, 2008, photojournalist Stachio Williams was arrested by police for taking photographs of a crime scene in a St Kitts village.

Standing a reported 35 feet away from the closest crime scene tape and 55 feet from where the body of the dead man lay, Williams took pictures of the scene with his cellular phone. He was arrested and taken to a police station because he refused to obey a policeman’s order to stop taking the photographs.

“Listen, you need to stop taking photos, and furthermore I need to get that phone from you,” Williams said the police officer told him, and when he refused to comply, he was arrested.

In another example from a neighbouring island, Barbadian Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin promised a full investigation into the circumstances which led to photographers being arrested and charged following an alternation with a police sergeant outside a Barbadian court.

The two photographers, Cherie Pitt of the Nation Publishing Company and Jimmy Gittens of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation were on duty at the court where a police constable was to appear on drug trafficking charges.

The alternation took place when they tried to photograph the accused police officer.

Dottin called the incident and other recent occurrences “very unfortunate” and said that any antagonism that exists is a “great shame” and “we have to work in a collaborative way to address what ever vestiges still remain.”

Richards told SEARCHLIGHT that it is important that media practitioners in St Vincent and the Grenadines work hard at getting a media association up and running so that theirs can be a united front in dealing with issues like Trotman’s case, when they pop up.

“If a journalist is carrying out his function in a bone fide way, then the police have no right to confiscate his equipment. We have condemned this in Trinidad, we condemned it in St Lucia, we condemned it in Barbados…we have always been condemning this action (by the police),” Richards said.

“As far as I am concerned, it was an unfortunate incident, but as a journalist I had to bring it out,” said Trotman when he spoke to SEARCHLIGHT earlier this week.

Trotman, who has worked in the British Virgin Islands, Guyana, Antigua as well as St. Vincent and the Grenadines and who has been in the field of journalism for over 30 years, said that he had no plans to take legal action but said this type of situation had serious implications for “the freedom of the press and the right of information for the wider public.”

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