Norberto Santana, Jr.
A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.
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I was troubled to read about Anaheim Police Sgt. Michael Lozeau, who confronted a Voice of OC reporter last week for simply taking his photograph during a traffic stop near Maxwell Park in Anaheim involving homeless people.
To be clear, we stand by our reporter.
Lozeau’s remarks to reporter Spencer Custodio – harassing him for doing his job – reminded me of the kind of confrontation I experienced in Cuba years ago while on assignment alongside visiting academics as I took photos out in public that accidentally included police figures.
We don’t live in Cuba.
Thanks to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the public has the right to film government officials.
“The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes California, ruled in the widely-cited 1995 case Fordythe v. Seattle.
“Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public,” the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a ruling last year.
More troubling than the verbal interaction with Lozeau – who heads up Anaheim PD’s Homeless Outreach Team – was how he later apparently questioned Custodio’s professionalism in the field.
In short, when our reporters contacted Anaheim PD to ask about official policies about filming, we were told that the department does understand people have the right to film officers.
Except, according to Public Information Officer Sgt. Daren Wyatt, Lozeau said our reporter didn’t identify himself.
“It probably would have gone a lot different if Spencer identified himself” and explained he was working on a story, Wyatt said.
That statement is extremely disturbing because it is plainly wrong.
Today, I’ll be contacting Anaheim PD to file a public records request for the body cam audio from Lozeau for that day because it is plainly clear to us that Custodio properly identified himself.
We are confident the body cam audio will back up our exact notes of the interaction.
Custodio was clear to the officer that he was a reporter as well as respectful.
Yet what he got after clearly identifying himself was a nasty retort.
“Want to play that game, huh?” was Lozeau’s response when informed of the First Amendment right to film government officials in the course of their work.
It’s no game.
It’s our job.
We expect police officers to extend the same public courtesy that they deserve to reporters and members of the public.
The interaction with our reporter also raises troubling questions about how police sweeps near Maxwell Park are actually being conducted – beyond what we hear in official circles or from the city council dais.
It’s unclear if Anaheim police officers receive any kind of training regarding the right of members of the public and journalists to photograph and film them in public.
In yet another troubling retort, PIO Wyatt told our reporters that he didn’t know if such training is provided, indicating that an answer to that question would require a California Public Records Act request about such training.
We shouldn’t have to file a records request to understand what kind of training or direction officers get on dealing with the public and filming.
However, I will add that request to my CPRA request for the body cam audio.
Hopefully, Anaheim city council members will also ask about this kind of training at their next public council meeting.
I had a good discussion about the incident with Anaheim Deputy Police Chief Julian Harvey, who told me both Lozeau’s actions and Wyatt’s comments are being reviewed internally.
It’s unlikely the public will ever know what comes from those reviews, due to a state law, known as the Police Officers Bill of Rights (POBAR), which shields police misconduct from public view in California.
Most importantly, Anaheim PD should take the initiative to have a discussion with their officers about the First Amendment and how it impacts their interactions out in public.
We stand ready to work with Anaheim PD on any public or internal training forums for officers – with the aim of helping them understand our role and the rights of the public and press to document official actions.
Lozeau – whose efforts were recognized in 2015 by former Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada – is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit over public filming of his duties.
Last year, homeless activist Lou Noble filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Anaheim alleging Lozeau illegally arrested the activist for filming him at Maxwell Park in 2015. His case is still pending.
We also shouldn’t forget that former Chief Quezada – the same official who presented Lozeau with his community service award in 2015 – was forced out by the police union, reportedly over their displeasure regarding Quezada’s efforts to hold officers accountable. A similar situation also arose recently in Santa Ana with former Chief Carlos Rojas being forced out by the police union over an increase in disciplinary measures against police officers.
Anaheim police officers face an extremely difficult situation at local parks after county supervisors earlier this year haphazardly cleared riverbed encampments – sending hundreds of homeless pouring back into local Anaheim neighborhoods.
Residents are understandably angry. They want their local parks back.
During a recent federal hearing on lawsuits over the County of Orange’s lack of homeless shelters, Judge David O. Carter reflected on the situation at Maxwell Park, calling it a “complete mess.”
Anaheim city council members — scrambling to answer public complaints in the midst of an election year and without any real county plan to address the homelessness crisis — have put their police officers in a tough situation asking them to enforce anti-camping laws on people with no place to go.
It seems as if Anaheim PD is essentially being asked, on the political hush-hush, to bully homeless people at local parks to move them out – regardless of their constitutional rights – because county supervisors still haven’t come up with any real sheltering solutions since the issue landed in court earlier this year.
It’s much easier to push homeless people around than standing up to county supervisors who fail to do their job.
Now, Anaheim has a new police chief and a new city manager.
I hope both publicly address this issue – specifically assuring the public about their First Amendment rights as well as ensuring that police officers are getting proper training about interacting with the public.
You don’t need to trash the U.S. Constitution to tackle homelessness.
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