VIDEO: Detained For Photography in Downtown Rochester, MN

The video above was sent to CopBlock.org via the “Submission tab” by DC who had an interesting encounter with two plain clothes police officers in Rochester, Minnesota. DC states that:

I was working on a school project (on police accountability) and was taking pictures/doing a 1st amendment audit of the public government center in downtown Rochester MN. I was really interesting in the construction they were doing because it honestly looked extremely unsafe.

A very nice security guard talked to me a little bit from the fire department (Steven, not sure of his last name). He was quite professional and was a good guy. You can see him at 4:14. After that, 2 plainclothes officers came up to me. One spoke (John Swanson #2503), the other just stood there. They wouldn’t let me get my phone out of my pocket, I asked why not and if i was being detained. He said I was, so I told them what I was doing, pressed my pant leg to my skin to show that there was only a phone in my pocket and slowly did it anyway. He swiped for it as I unlocked it to begin recording. The first thing he says is to put my phone away.

Honestly, Officer Swanson had no idea what he was doing. He freely admits that I’m breaking no laws that he’s aware of. I offhandedly asked for a supervisor, which he refused. I then formally requested one and he clarifies correctly. He also tells Tracy Nepper #2321 (the uniformed officer) when she walks up that I had requested one. He uses the “in this day and age” line of reasoning because that’s what he’s been trained to do. I indulged his weak reasoning but still refused to fully identify myself or answer questions. I told him my name was Dan, which it is, and that I was a photographer.

Officer Nepper walked up in uniform and took control of the “stop”. I asked her what crime I was suspected of committing and she said none that she was aware of. She uses the same weak arguments and I still refused to identify myself since I was not suspected of a crime.

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I got detained for about 15 minutes after I refused to identify. I plan to follow up with a complaint since none of the officers knew basic identification laws in Minnesota. which is that it’s not a stop-and-identify state.

I never got to speak to a supervisor. Luckily, I was not arrested for not committing a crime. They released me after Swanson informed the group saying “I had been identified”. I’m not sure if it’s because I actually had been identified, or because they knew they were wrong and were trying to save face. I asked if I was still being detained and they replied that I was free to go. I walked a few streets (seeing a marked police SUV pass twice) over to a small bar and had a beer. Awhile later, I walked the long way back to my car which was about a mile away. I did not observe any more police, marked or otherwise.

This is the first time I had ever been approached by police for my photography, I take pictures lots of places, downtown even. But i’ve never been stopped like that before.

– DC

John Swanson #2503
Tracy Nepper #2321
Phone: 507-328-6810

DC did a great job here of answering Swanson’s questions with questions. This is an important tactic to utilize when interacting with police or CopBlocking. When you answer questions directly they can be used against you. When you answer questions with questions, you haven’t answered the question but merely inquired about the original question. While that can still be used in court, it’s not a definitive answer.

For example, when I’m asked by police to provide ID my response is always, “Am I legally required to provide you with ID?” Even if I know I am and I do that because not only do I want to hear the officer articulate the law but they might not know it at all. This is like a get out of a police interaction card because if they don’t know the law then it’s merely a request and you’re free to go.

Furthermore, if you are arrested for failing to ID the charge is easier to beat, especially with video evidence, since you didn’t refuse but inquired as to WHY you were required to provide ID. If the officer says something like, “The law says you have too.” I would then respond with, “Can you show me the law that says that exactly?” At this point they usually say something like, “I don’t have too or that’s the law, now show me your ID.” I’ve never had an officer actually show me the law but I have had a few arrest me. The ones that arrested me before answering all my question have never been able to prosecute me for ‘failing to ID.”

See the video below for example, the charges from this arrest did NOT stick:

Find out what you can do help support us, either by donations or direct actions.
Find out what you can do help support us, either by donations or direct actions.

Another thing DC did well was remained calm, allowed the officers time to respond fully and then continued with his logical, legal explanations for not providing his ID. At the end this seemed to have paid off because he was able to leave without arrest or threat of extortion (ticket).

Two things I would recommend for DC, and those reading this, is that you are aware of your cell phone’s battery life and live stream (using Cell 411, Bambuser or other application). Maybe DC was aware he was running low on battery and if he was, should have been pushing the “Am I being detained or am I free to go” line more. It’s extremely dangerous to have your device die in the middle of a police interaction. Which is why I prefer to stream with Cell 411. Not only will that notify my trusted CopBlocker friends that I’m having a police interaction, but if one of them is close enough it will provide them directions to my exact location. This will help because there’s obvious strength in numbers but also if you have technical difficulties as well. Hopefully by the time your battery dies another person has arrived and is filming the conclusion of your encounter. Or like I mentioned before, you can try to end the encounter before hand – something I’ve had to do my times filming police.

You can gain more knowledge regarding filming the police by visiting a number of the pages featured at the CopBlock.org Resources tab; from tech gear and app suggestions to actual tips and tactics to film the police with. Knowledge is power!


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Ademo Freeman

was born and raised in Wisconsin, traveled the country in a RV dubbed "MARV" and is an advocate of a voluntary society, where force is replaced with voluntary interactions. He's partaken in projects such as, Motorhome Diaries, Liberty on Tour, Free Keene, Free Talk Live and is the Founder of CopBlock.org. ____________________________________________________________________________ If you enjoy my work at CopBlock.org, please, consider donating $1/month to the CopBlock Network or purchasing CopBlock.org Gear from the store. ____________________________________________________________________________ Find Ademo at these social networks: Facebook Twitter Youtube