WKYC Photog Confronted by Off-Duty Police Officer

[From: wkyc.com]
[view the video]

CLEVELAND — A WKYC-TV photojournalist on assignment was confronted by an off-duty Cleveland police officer.
Craig Roberson was working with WKYC reporter Lydia Esparra, checking on the activities of Cleveland Public School students, who had a third straight day off because of the weather.

Because idle youngsters had previously caused trouble in and around Public Square, the news crew began their assignment there.

They found the area generally calm and quiet, and were invited inside Tower City by employees of a store in The Avenue, the shopping mall inside.

The employees told Esparra and Roberson there was an unusually large number of youngsters inside, but that mall security was doing a good job.

Two off-duty Cleveland police officers working for Tower City noticed the WKYC-TV crew inside the store and confirmed with mall security that they did have permission to be there.

Suddenly, a third off-duty Cleveland police officer, also working mall security, appeared at the entrance to the store.

“Hey, turn that off. What are you filming a policeman for?” the officer demanded. “I didn’t give you permission to do that.”

“I don’t need permission,” correctly replied photojournalist Roberson, who had been given clearance by the store to be there and to work on the story.

The off-duty officer walked toward Roberson, and pushed the camera to ground, damaging the camera and injuring Roberson’s arm in the process.

A few minutes later when Roberson re-started the camera, he was confronted by a representative of Tower City, who put her hand over the lens and demanded the camera be turned off.

“I just got assaulted by one of your officers here,” Roberson explained.

“No you didn’t,” the Tower City employee told him.

“How can you tell me I didn’t?” asked Roberson, as the Tower City rep continued to keep her hand over the lens.

Roberson was treated at an emergency room for an arm injury. Cleveland Police Lt. Thomas Stacho, who viewed the tape, said the matter would be investigated.

“Now that we have had an opportunity to review it, we will turn it over to our investigators, let them review it, interview all the parties, and get to the bottom of this.”

Tower City had promised a faxed statement to WKYC about the incident, but by mid-evening it still had not arrived to the newsroom.

[b-roll.net FORUM discussion]


  1. Clearly, this cop is totally out of control. It would interesting to see if he has a history of this sort of behavior. He should be suspended and/or at minimum receive mandatory anger management classes. I hope the photojournalist sues and gets a huge payday. It also cracks me up that the cops themselves are conducting “an investigation” this sounds fair and balanced.

  2. Dennis Jackson says:

    what ever happened to this cop, is he still on the force. It was a good thing you had your camera rolling because thats your true witness.

  3. mel says:

    I saw all of this happen and I can tell you that the officer did not even touch the camera man.He stepped around to the side and put his hand on the camera and the camera man dropped the camera when he was trying to avoid the officer.This guy knew what he was doing by making a big scene and going to the ER nothing even happened to him.And also the news did not have permission to be in the store tapeing.They asked the wrong person who was not authorized to permit the cameras inside.I cant stand news channels with bulls#!t “bad cop expose” WE SHOULD BE THANKFUL THAT WE HAVE PEOPLE WHO RISK THIER LIVES TO KEEP US SAFE.FIRE THE CAMERA MAN WHO WAS IN THE WRONG TO BEGIN WITH.HE IS JUST TRYING TO CASH IN …GOING TO THE ER YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!

  4. Josh Kuhn says:

    For some reason, Why do I think “mel” works for the City of Cleveland…

    Irregardless, At the time he thought he had permission to be there. I don’t know Ohio’s laws but in some states malls are considered public property and as we all know… Cams can go wherever citizens can on public property.

    This whole situation ticks me off… Cops that think they can tell us what to do. He’s visible from somewhere I have permission to be he may end up on tape. He touches me b/c of it, He’ll be paying me royally. He breaks the camera and injures me in the process, He’ll be lucky he’s not getting assault charges pressed.

  5. Mel says:

    I do not work for the city I just saw what happened.He did not have permission to be filming in the mall (which is not public property)and he did not have any reason at all to be filming the police.If I was filming someone and they asked me to stop I would. The woman at the end of the film works for tower city and even she asked the crew to turn the camera off.Cops can tell us what to do….you know why? THEY ARE THE POLICE.
    Oh and “irregardless” is not a word.

  6. Mel says:

    The camera was not broken and the man filming was not injured

  7. Dave says:

    Mel must know more that than what he/she are letting on if they know who it was who gave permission for the crew to video and alos know thay were not allowed to, as per normal there is 2 sides to every story. After bring a cop for ten years and now a camera operator for two there seem to be more to this story than first told.

  8. MK says:

    If i told you to stop writing on this website, would you? If i told you to stop talking on your phone, would you? When you are doing something you believe is legal and acceptable, by no means should you be subject to such ludicous demands and behavior. You, Mel, are the exact person that us photographers smirk and laugh at when you are in front of our lenses doing something you will probably regret later, and thinking we have no right to do what we are doing…But guess what, we do, and i promise you, there is nothing you can do about it.

  9. Mel says:

    Did anyone watch the video? He did not have permission to be there.

    Just because someone “thinks” what they are doing is legal does not mean it always is.

    Im not sure how you all seem to know so much about who I am. Im a cop I work for the city Im the person the photographers are laughing at.I walk arouund all day telling camera men they have no right to be doing waht they ard doing. Its amazing you all can infer all that from a few posts about about an event that I witnessed.

    I dont think I have ever done anything that I regret in front of a camera but I will be sure to let you all know when I do.

    Ive never said that you have no right to be doing what you are doing.I dont even know you.Some how my post has inspired these sweeping generalizations about who I am.I did not attack anyones charactor or identity!Im telling you what happened.Simple as that.Can we please discuss the story instead of your opinion of me as a person?

    I am a 21 year old, female Journalism student at CSU.I have no ties to the cleveland police or tower city.Shall I send a photo?

  10. KC says:

    My first thoughts after watching the video are, where does the officer come off placing his hands on the camera? It has always been my belief that the camera is an extension of your person. Seems to me that this cop just took a little too personally the fact that Roberson was shooting his fellow cops. I don’t think he cared one bit about them being inside the store. How about taking a minute, asking a few questions – not just saying “we didn’t give you permission” – and being civil. He didn’t even hesitate in his b-line for the photographer.


    “Cops can tell us what to do….you know why? THEY ARE THE POLICE.”

    So according to you they have carte blanche to do whatever they please? That cop needs to find out who gave them permission and then confirm it. I’ve seen it happen plenty where a guard or an officer or whoever thinks you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be and tries to tell you you can’t be where you are or do what you’re doing when you’ve been given prior clearance. Since when does security authorize a crew to shoot somewhere. Anytime I’ve ever shot in a store or mall, etc. we’ve gotten the OK from an Office of Communications of Public Relations or store owner/manager. I’d say we chalk this one up to a good old-fashioned power trip.

  11. Daywood says:

    I shall discuss the story, and leave you completely out of it other than to address statements you made.

    First, malls are considered public property in some states even though the building, stores, and parking lot are owned by a private company. Some not all states consider them a “public square”, and as such since the public can come and go without restriction so can the media.

    Second, the story mentions that the reporter was given permission by the store employee to shoot in the store. It is not the responsibility of the crew to determine if that person has the authority to grant permission or not. If they were wearing a nametag from the store, they made a reasonable assumption that the giver of permission was an employee and had the right to allow them to tape inside the store. This fact was confirmed by the first two officers you saw on the video as they walked out of the store.

    One would have to read the lease agreement signed between the store and Tower City to determine if Tower City has the right to control all media access in the building. The woman at the end of the story may have been in the right on the issue, but she still had no right to touch the camera.

    As for us feeling thankful. I am thankful there are men and women who put their lives on the line doing jobs so I don’t have to. One must realize though that the trust we put in them does NOT give them absolute power nor does it in any way diminish the rights I have as a citizen of the United States.

    I was not there so I can in no way comment on whether the photographer in question is faking or “making a big scene”. It is my belief in looking at the video that the off-duty cop (ergo security officer with a carry permit, no longer acting as an agent of the City of Cleveleand) overreacted resulting in a disturbance. The first question he should have proffered was to the two security guards who left the store scant moments before he came in. They would have told him the situation and all could have been resolved.

    I have worked with police and fire for a number of years, and never have a problem with those who see the media as people who are doing a job. I almost always have problems with law enforcement who believes it is there job to control the media with an iron fist. Basically if they are nice, answer my query, and don’t treat me as a criminal from the outset, we won’t have a problem. You tell me I can’t shoot somewhere and give me a resonable reason why, I’ll take my camera else where and try and make it work. This is the reason they teach a Media Law class in college, and most stations require some sort of training in local media laws. If I know my rights as a photographer and a cop tells me no, he is in the wrong and not me. The analogy from an earlier post likening it to someone telling you to stop using your phone is a good one. The person asking you to stop can work for the phone company, and they would still be in the wrong.

    Mel, I would like to apologize for some of the other posters on the site, but you must remember that as a college student you will learn more in your first week in a full-time position at a station that you will in all your years at CSU. Most of the people who post have been in the field enough to have had similar situations happen to them or people they work with.

    In closing, do I agree with the security guard[off-duty cop]’s actions? No. Do I think that the reporter and photographer had permission to be there? I must infer from the two guards who exited the store moments before they did. Again, I don’t have all the facts in the story, but one must put their faith in the members of the media who reported the story. Their job is to tell the truth. Are there some media members who break that trust? Absolutely. Is mine a blind trust? By no means. If EVIDENCE were presented showing the story happened in a different way than reported, I would, without hesitation, follow the evidence. Unfortunately this is not the best forum to present evidence, and, by the way, is not a court of law or record.

    The incident was unfortunate, and one can only hope that cooler heads will prevail when law enforcement or security guards and media members meet.

    Daryn Williams
    Former TV News Photographer
    Current Instructor at University of North Texas RTVF Dept.

  12. news4u2 says:

    Mel has the right to feel the way she does. From her experience at the event she believes the crew was wrong. After looking at the story that aired it is clear that an assault occured when the officer touched the photog. The crew was inside leased store space, not any common area of the mall. The first two officers verified their permission from store management and left. The assaulting officer was first questioning why the other officers were being photographed. His actions could also be considered harassment which is against the law in all 50 states. No security was breeched by the photog shooting tape of the scene. In the article “Your Rights and Remedies when stopped or confronted for Photography” written by attorney Bert Krages, Mr Krages states, “is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs.” The crew had permission from the store management who leases the space from Tower City. It should not matter to a judge if the photog was not as hurt as clamed and acting up for the story. The tape that aired shows the assault before the camera drops to the floor. The other assault occured when Tower City management touched the camera equipment. I am sure that both wished that they had handled the situation in a different manner. Tower City can request the crew to stop filming and what we saw in the story, the crew did stop after asked. At that point the teases for that night’s story were already being written. The civil remedies in this case could include compensation for assault, conversion, false imprisonment and violation of constitutional rights. Photojournalists are required by nature to maintain a higher standard than their non-camera carrying counterparts. Wherever there is a group of on lookers at a crime or accident scene, cops zero in on the one with a camera and asks them to step back. Law officers, security personnel, mall and office management need to understand that photojournalists have a higher standard as well. This scene advanced way too fast and most likely could have been avoided if the officer had approached the crew professionaly instead of forceably.

  13. goof says:

    Sorry, Mel…if you’re a journalism student and you believe any crazy word your saying on these posts…you might want to consider a change of major. The first amendment is a journalist’s best friend…and for some reason you don’t seem to support it. If the guy had what he BELIEVED to be permission to be in the store, he can shoot anything he wants until a manager or some higher up tells him to stop. That doesn’t include the off-duty cop, because he’s not working for the store. And even if he was, he certainly has no right to even ATTEMPT to touch the camera or the cameraman. That would be ATTEMPTED battery. Anyway, if you want to take the side of the people trying to oppress the media (for no good reason at that!)…you better rethink your career choice.

  14. Mel says:

    Thank you to those of you who commented on the story and did not attack me personally.I really do aprecciate it.

    I have done some investigating of my own on the story so that I would have more then my opinion to report on

    Tower City is not public property nor is the store in which the story took place.Before filming in tower city media must have permission from tower city managment.They are all very well aware of this because they have been turned down multiple times.In this case managment had already said no to other media wanting to do a story and told the police officers who are hired by tower city managment to be on the look out for the media.I dont know that I would want someone to come to my store and do a story about teens running wild in the mall either(my opinion again sorry)

    Channel 3 news did not ask tower city managment for permission to film instead they asked an employee of the store who said “sure” I cant say for sure if any party involved was aware that the employee did not have the authority to do so although tower city managment did say that they should have because of previous incidents.

    Th two police officers walking away had asked the employee if he said it was ok to film and he said yes.They then left the store to confirm with tower city managment that the crew could film.As they were leaving the third officer witnessed the crew filming the other two officers.You can read my original post to see what I witnessed but for now we can skip that part since we can all take something different from the video.

    When the Woman who works for tower city managment got word from the other two officers of what was happening she came down to the store.Unfortunatley the incident had already happened and she made the snap decission to put her hands on the camera as well.I talked to the officers involved as well as the tower city managment and employees of the store.I attempted to talk to the cameraman but he was “severley distressed” from the incident and had a few days off.

    My opinion has not changed but I just wanted to let you all know some of the facts.I apoligize if I offeneded anyone here but I stand by my earlier statements about what I saw and about law enforcment in general.

    Im sure that some will still not be satisfied with my investigation but I did the best I could to find out what happened.I did not talk to the actual cameraman and Im sure that will make a huge difference to most of you since I only got 1 (or 2 or 3) side of the story .Just keep in mind that You only got 1 side of the story as well

  15. Mel says:

    Attempted battery? my goodness..
    Im not taking anyones side Im just telling you what I saw.

  16. elemeno-p says:

    Permission to be on property or no permission, isn’t it still illegal to place your hands on someone (or their property) unless you’re going to legally detain them? AND isn’t the police officer (or security guard, which may make a difference) the only person allowed to place his hands on someone, making the mall manager guilty of attempted battery. I know it may sound a little ridiculous, but a person can be hurt mentally (shooken up) without actually being physically harmed. That’s why laws are written to keep people from making unwanted contact with another person. I think, at very least, that the mall manager crossed legally crossed the line. The cop… maybe. Mel, by chance, do you know what kind of damage was sustained by the camera itself? I know when I dropped my i-pod last month, it seemed fine for a few days, but then it completely stopped working. Are you sure there isn’t any long term damage to the camera?

  17. Daywood says:

    You’re right Mel, I misspoke.
    I wrote:
    “First, malls are considered public property in some states even though the building, stores, and parking lot are owned by a private company. Some not all states consider them a “public square”, and as such since the public can come and go without restriction so can the media.”

    Considering them “Public Property” was the wrong term. Make sure to review the law. I haven’t looked it up in Ohio, but I believe in California and several other states consider Malls “Public Squares”. This means the media can be there.

    I also mentioned the lease that the store signed with Tower City. I haven’t read that lease, but in the lease I have with my apartment, the complex doesn’t have the right to restrict the media from my apartment if I want them there.
    The same MAY be true of Tower City. I don’t know… There is a difference between ‘in Tower City’ and ‘in a store in Tower City’. I shot a story in a Sears that was part of a mall. The Mall Management representative said we couldn’t do it until he spoke with the General Manager of the Sears who said we had been invited.

    I’m sure you are sure of what you saw, and I am not disputing what you saw. What I am saying is sometimes what people expect and what is right under the law are two different things.

  18. Mel says:

    from what I saw the camera was ok right after it was dropped.He picked it up a few seconds later and continued filming the Tower city manangment woman and it also seemed fine from the video but I do not know if it was still ok later on.

  19. Josh Kuhn says:

    Mel, Just curious… How did you find this blog?

  20. Josh Kuhn says:

    Also, If he wasn’t injured why was he taken to the ER and out of work for nearly a week?

    If you’re in j-school, You need to do your internship and get some real world experience. He asked someone who represented the store if he could shoot, They said “yes”, He shot what he needed… The cop could have come up and said “You don’t have permission to shoot on xyz management company’s property” and that ends that. Instead, the cop came up and injured the photog and (according to the report) broke the camera.

    If it were me, I would have done my job then called another agency (IE: County sheriff’s dept or state) and filed charges against that cop. So workman’s comp covered his hospital bills… Doesn’t give the cop the permission to touch me unless I’m breaking the law. And even if he was…There was a better way to handle it then that.

  21. Josh Kuhn says:

    And we never claimed the store was public property, but at the time he had permission to be in there…

    I wish I could just edit these comments and add to my previous one…

  22. Mel says:

    well he wasnt taken to the ER he took himself to the ER as any smart person looking to file charges would.Gotta love those punitive damages….ace bandage and a bag of ice I presume.I also spoke with the Cleveland police officers again today and there will be no action taken against the officer or Tower city managment.

    I fouund this blog when I was reading the comments on another story some time ago. Witnessed this incident and looked it up TA-DA!

  23. elemeno-p says:

    I’m sorry Mel, but, as much as you “know” about the situation, it sounds alot like you’re being sarcastic about his alleged injuries. Are you aware about the specific of his injuries?
    Are you sure you’re being completely objective here or have you formed a non-journalistic opinion about this?
    Aren’t there Federal laws that prohibit any adult person (except law enforcement with the intent to detain) from making unwanted contact with another adult.
    Did the officer arrest or detain the photographer? No. So did he have legal grounds to place his hands on that photographer or that photographer’s property?

  24. js8phoyog says:

    OK Let me make a couple comments from a photog who has been on the job for more than 15yrs and who has been assaulted by an on duty cop. 1)when ever I look to enter a store for permission to shoot the first thing I say is: “May I speak to a manager.” As much as it is true that any representative can give permission for someone to enter their store and shoot, it is unprofessional to NOT ask the manager. second I agree from what I have read here that the security guard could have handled it with a more respectfull atitude. However, one thing i have learned is that your attitude in response is the one that makes a difference on how an officer will continue to deal with you. They don’t like to be told that they are wrong. When the photog responded – I don’t need permission he was being confrontational. He was also being disrespectful to a person who is just doing his job. Yes when and officer is wrong they are wrong, but trying to tell them they are wrong will almost never work. If you show them that you are a professional by repecting there order you will create an atmoshere that you can then talk to them. He could have lowered his camera (keep it rolling though) and said something like: OK – I’m sorry. Then they cop would most likely back down and now you have a chance to say, “I was given permission.” It realy comes down to being a professional without a chip on your shoulder. This was a story about kids goofing off when school was out – is it realy worth getting in a confrontation where someone may damage you or your camera. No story is worth getting hurt for – i don’t care if you are right or wrong. You may think, “I have to protect the right if journalism.” The best way you can do that is to create a professional atmosphere in everything that you do and give everyone involved in your story the smae respect that you want them to give you. Just because they don’t show it at first doesn’t mena you can’t gain it.

  25. Danny says:

    Mel, if you’re really a journalism student, then you need to ask your professors about this incident. If they don’t side with the photographer, then they shouldn’t be teaching jounalism, period.

    If you DO become a journalist, it will be part of your job to USE your constitutional rights to defy the wills of power-tripping policemen. If you can’t handle doing that, then you need to go to culinary school or something else less confrontational.

  26. Mel says:

    you guys are so right Im gonna drop out of J school and become a cop

  27. Josh Kuhn says:

    Let us know what city so we can all move if needed…

  28. Tape Ape says:

    I certainly hope, Mel, that you will drop out of J school. We do not need “journalists” who are willing to throw away our constitutional rights just because some guy with a badge wants them to.

  29. […] From wkyc.com via b-roll.net Today: CLEVELAND — A WKYC-TV photojournalist on assignment was confronted by an off-duty Cleveland police officer. Craig Roberson was working with WKYC reporter Lydia Esparra, checking on the activities of Cleveland Public School students, who had a third straight day off because of the weather. […]

  30. Lou says:

    It never fails to amaze me how many there are in law enforcement who know nothing about the law.

  31. JP says:

    There’s always two sides to a story. Maybe they did in fact get clearance from an employee there, but perhaps said employee did not have the authority to make that decision. In which case, it’s the employee’s fault who gave them false clearance and gave them the impression that were not in the wrong.

    Either way, both sides (possibly) acted inappropriately and it shouldn’t have gone the way it did. The officer shouldn’t have lost his temper and he definitely could have handled it in a more mature, calm manner. I guess we will never know if the photog is being over-dramatic or not about his “injury”. If he is, then I have absolutely no respect for the guy and he gives people in the news a bad name.

    I’ve been a photographer for three years, and luckily I’ve never had such a dramatic conflict such as this with someone out in the field. I’ve had my share of confrontations with authority figures and just normal citizens alike, but never anything like this…yet.

    It is true that some cops can be out of line. For example, I had a cop yell at me for filming from a public sidewalk, and he tried to kick me off…give me a break. Some cops-with all due respect-should not be given the power or the authority that comes with their jobs.

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