January 23, 2017
Sergeant Lara & Officer Marques,
Santa Maria Police Department
1111 W Betteravia Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93458
Phone: (805) 928-3781
Attention: Chief Ralph Martin
Howdy folks. How has 2017 been turning out for everyone so far? I hope all of you are not being deprived of your rights and freedoms as I was last Monday, January the 23rd.
The city of Santa Maria is located in Santa Barbara County on California’s beautiful Central Coast. More than one hundred thousand people live here and the city has experienced its fair share of problems in recent years. In December of 2011, a local resident was killed and two officers were wounded during a shootout in which Santa Maria police officers were firing their weapons at each other. In February of 2012, a Santa Maria police officer was shot and killed by two fellow officers who were attempting to arrest him after evidence came about that the officer was having a sexual relationship with an underage police explorer. By this time last year, Santa Maria had already seen more murders than the cities of Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose combined.
But despite the fact that this city of little more than a hundred thousand residents has a growing level of violence, just this past Monday officers of the Santa Maria Police Department felt the need to illegally detain a man and deprive him of his freedom for doing nothing more than practicing photography out in public. That individual was me and I’d like to share my experience with you all right now.
On Monday January 23, I decided to conduct a First Amendment Audit of the Santa Maria Juvenile Justice Center. This facility houses the Santa Maria Juvenile Hall, as well as the Santa Barbara County Juvenile Courts. Before I go any further, I’d like to explain to you all who may not know what a First Amendment Audit is. This is where an individual, such as myself, will go film at a public building, such as a police station, correctional facility, county courthouse, post office, etc. During the audit the individual will stand on a public sidewalk or in an area open to the public and simply film what can be seen from public view. The purpose of conducting such an audit is to make sure that our First Amendment right to film in public is being respected. Unfortunately, my right to film in public was not respected this past Monday.
I hadn’t been filming for more than a minute or two when I was confronted by a man in a white pickup truck who informed me that he had just called 911 on me and wanted to know why I was filming the facility. Couldn’t he have simply asked me that instead of jumping the gun and calling 911? I responded by telling this individual that I didn’t feel that what I was doing was any of his concern. To this he responded that he’d just let 911 “deal with me” and drove off.
So I continued on with my audit. A few more minutes went by before the first police car arrived and I was confronted by a female officer whose name tag identified her as one Officer Marques. The interaction started peacefully with Officer Marques informing me that someone at the Juvenile Hall had called in about a man filming the facility. I responded by informing Officer Marques that I was simply gathering content for a story that I was working on. It was at this point that Officer Marques asked to see my identification, to which I respectfully declined. This is where the tide starts to shift.
Now what had started off as a peaceful interaction was quickly turning into something more confrontational as Officer Marques stated that I was “required by law” to give her my ID. WRONG. When I pointed out the fact that unless I had been suspected of committing a crime I was not required to identify myself, this officer went to an old cop standard by using the fact that I was filming a government building as means for justifying her wanting to identify me. When I shed light on the fact that I was doing so from a public sidewalk, which is perfectly legal under the law, Officer Marques now stated that she had the right to “detain me” and that I was required to identify myself to her. WRONG AGAIN. At this point, I requested to speak to a supervisor.
So as we waited for the supervisor to arrive, more and more officers began to show up. Pretty soon, it was beginning to appear as though me and my filming was the only thing happening in Santa Maria. But on a serious note, weren’t all of these officers needed elsewhere? In a city with an alarmingly rising rate of violent crime, couldn’t these officers be doing something more important than hassling a guy with a camera who is engaged in a perfectly legal act? I guess all of the crimes in Santa Maria must’ve been solved that day.
Something else that I want to point out is that while we were all standing around waiting for the supervisor, who must’ve been stuffing his face, to arrive, on multiple occasions the officers on the scene, including Officer Marques, maid mention of the fact that I hadn’t committed any crimes or done anything wrong. THEN WHY IN THE HELL WAS I BEING DETAINED?
Finally, the supervisor arrived. Meet Sergeant Lara, Santa Maria’s finest. Now call this ignorance on my part, but I expected more coming from a police sergeant. What I was somewhat expecting to happen was that the sergeant would arrive, he’d talk to Officer Marques and the other officers, my rights would be confirmed, and I’d be free to go. Hell, I might even get an apology from someone. But as soon as Sergeant Lara stepped out of his patrol vehicle I knew I was going to be dealing with a tyrant.
Sergeant Lara had an attitude right from the start. He obviously didn’t like the fact that I was filming him. But despite being on camera Sergeant Lara still chose to behave like a tyrant. He immediately took the side of Officer Marques insisting that she was correct and that they had right to see my ID. When I tried to explain to this ignoramus that unless I had been suspected of committing a crime I was not required by law to identify myself, he would just cut me off with his ignorant babbling. Despite my being bullied by this tyrannical police sergeant, I continued to stand my ground and refused to identify myself.
Not knowing what to do next, Sergeant Lara took to getting on his the phone with someone whom I suspect had maybe just a bit more sense than he did. I say this because after he got off the phone Sergeant Lara approached me and instead of his continuing to demand my ID, he said that him and his officers were going to stick around while I conducted my business for the safety of the kids inside. WHAT!? I couldn’t believe what was coming out of this guy’s mouth. This here is a Juvenile Hall facility and the kids he is referring are incarcerated on suspicion of having committed criminal offenses. But still Sergeant Lara feels that they need protection from me, a guy with a camera. Aren’t the probation officers, who run the Juvenile Hall, the ones that are supposed to be looking after the kids? Ridiculous.
Finally I was free to leave. But not before one of the officers on the scene completed her big mission, which was to take photographs of me. Wow. Was her picture taking going to help keep the kids, who are locked up in Juvenile Hall, safe?
I encourage all of you to contact the Santa Maria Police Department and demand that Chief Ralph Martin launch an investigation into my illegal detainment. If we don’t do something about this then officers from not only this police department, but other law enforcement agencies across the country, will continue to abuse the rights of citizens as was the case here. I thank you all for taking the time to read this article. Lets do something about it.
– Nasty Nathanial