Tuesday October 16, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- A woman who tried to take pictures of police serving a search warrant on Fuller Drive on Oct. 12 got a little more than she bargained for.

After snapping three pictures of the incident, an officer approached Kathy Carr, of Brattleboro, and told her she had to turn over her camera because it contained "material evidence."

"I live on Pine Street," said Carr. "When I went by Fuller Road I saw four or five police cars."

Carr said she took advantage of the incident to build her confidence when taking pictures in public.

"This was an opportunity to do so, so I got my camera and went down there," she said.

Police were on scene after receiving a tip from the San Bernardino (Calif.) County Sheriff's Department that a large amount of marijuana was being shipped to an address in Brattleboro.

Based on this information, a search warrant was applied for, granted and served on a residence on Fuller Drive.

As a result of the search, marijuana was found in the house and Brandon Rosewarne, 22, and Christian Martinez, 26, were arrested.

Carr insisted she was on the opposite side of the road and about 10 yards away when she took the three pictures, which she characterized as "lousy" in quality.

"We had a road between us," said Carr.

As the officer spoke with Carr, he asked her for her name, address and date of birth.

"I gave it to him and then went to leave, but I was told not to go anywhere, because he was going to have to confiscate my camera," said Carr.

Carr said the officer was very nice during the entire encounter.

"I can't fathom any basis for confiscating a camera while a person is photographing police activities," said Allen Gilbert, the executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "What somebody sees from a public space is usually considered OK to photograph."

Though someone who is interfering with a police action or investigation could face arrest, just snapping pictures without getting in the way doesn't justify confiscation, said Gilbert.

Though Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn admitted his officer made a mistake, he said Carr should have been arrested and then her camera taken.

"She interfered and was obstructing justice," said Wrinn. "She attempted to engage the person under arrest and interfered with officers doing their job."

Otherwise, Wrinn said, if she wanted to "sit quiet and take pictures," she was free to do so.

Carr said she doesn't believe she did anything wrong.

When she went to the SUV that was serving as a command center to get a receipt for her camera, she overheard the officers speaking about a pair of dogs that were in the house, said Carr.

"I told them to take the dogs because they are vicious," said Carr. "I was told to shut up."

Gilbert said it would be quite a stretch for an arrest to be made in a case such as this.

"I don't see how that charge can stick in court," said Gilbert, who added sometimes standing up for your rights could result in an arrest.

"Part of protecting your rights is you have to assert them and sometimes put up with the inconvenience of an illegal arrest in order to show that you are correct," said Gilbert.

Currently, the police department has a draft policy to deal with issues such as this, said Wrinn.

"You're free to take all the pictures you want but don't interfere with us," said Wrinn.

Wrinn said Carr got her camera back that same day.

"The officer was kind and apologetic later," said Carr, adding the incident was a learning experience for her.

"As long as you are in a public area, you can take photos of anyone and any building," she said. "The only time the police can serve a warrant is if you photograph a crime and saw something."

Carr also said if it happened again she wouldn't give up her camera so willingly.

"They could arrest me, but I'm not going to give up my camera," she said.

Vermont Deputy Attorney General John Treadwell had no comment on this particular incident, but did say this is the type of event the AG's office might be called upon to review.

"This is an issue that has been coming up around the country, but not in Vermont," said Treadwell. "Law enforcement in Vermont is generally extremely respectful of the rights of an individual."

Despite the actions of the officer, Gilbert said the Brattleboro Police Department should be recognized for eventually doing the right thing.

"You've encountered a rare instance of somebody recognizing that an officer should be held publicly accountable for their action and needed correction for their mistake," he said.

While police did not report how much marijuana was seized at the house, they did state it was "in excess of five pounds."

Rosewarne was cited for possessing marijuana in excess of five pounds and Martinez was cited for possession in excess of one ounce.

Rosewarne was transported to Southern State Correction Facility and held prior to arraignment.

Martinez was ordered to appear in court at a later date.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.