D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Thursday that officers were wrong to interfere with a man who stopped to record an arrest on Sunday along a public street in Washington and that the matter is under investigation.
In 2012, Lanier published a detailed directive to officers advising them that citizens had a right to record officers performing their jobs in public, as long as they did not get involved. The cameraman in this case was 20 to 30 feet from the officers.
In her statement Thursday, Lanier said her command staff “spent an extensive amount of time to ensure that members were aware of the policy. The video speaks for itself. I was shocked when I saw it. There is no excuse for an officer to be unaware of the policy.”
The video of the encounter has been posted to YouTube. The photographer, Andrew Heining, 31, is a Washington Post mobile editor. He did not identify himself as a Post employee while being questioned by police. The police video policy is the same for the media and the public.
The incident occurred outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 9th and G streets Northwest.
Heining was on his bicycle and stopped to record the arrest. His video shows six officers, five of whom are in D.C. police uniforms, handcuffing a man who was being questioned following a call for a fight involving men with sticks.
After the man was in custody, two officers briskly walked toward Heining, who was on a wide public sidewalk about 20 feet away. An officer with “Reynolds” on his name tag asked, “You a part of this sir?” Heining said no, and the officer responded, “Okay, we have an investigation here. You want to be a part of it?”
“No sir,” Heining said.
The officer replied: “I suggest you pack up and go.”
Heining said: “I’m standing on the sidewalk.”
The officer said, “This is not public.”
The officer told Heining that by videotaping the scene that he had become part of the investigation, and at one point questioned whether he was involved in the fight.
Heining said in an interview that he only saw officers subduing the man, that the suspect appeared to be resisting and that the use of force to bring him under control looked warranted.
“What most surprised me was that the officers broke away from the arrest,” he said. “When they continued to push the issue, I couldn’t believe it.” Heining said it appeared the officer “was upset I was challenging his authority.”
Police ordered Heining to the far end of the block and put up crime scene tape, warning him he’d be arrested if he crossed.
The police department’s general order states that taking pictures of police doing their job in public “by itself does not constitute suspicious conduct.”