Photography is not a crime. It’s protected First Amendment expression. But that hasn’t stopped deputies of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department from detaining and searching photographers, solely based on the fact they are taking pictures in public places, and ordering photographers not to take pictures on public streets and other public places where photography is not prohibited. But these searches and detentions the violate both the First Amendment right to photograph, and the Fourth Amendment right to be free on unlawful searches and detentions.

On October 27, 2011, the ACLU of Southern California and the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP filed suit on behalf of three plaintiffs, who between them have been detained or ordered not to photograph by LASD deputies on at least six occasions, as well the National Photographers’ Rights Organization. The complaint details similar incidents involving others, from amateur photographers to veteran photojournalists. The lawsuit alleges that the detentions have occurred as part of the LASD’s program on LASD deputies detained and searched Shawn Nee for photographing turnstiles on the Los Angeles Metro, asking if he planned to sell the photos to al-Qaeda and threatening to put his name on the FBI’s “hit list.” LASD deputies detained and searched Shane Quentin, a photographer with an M.F.A. from UC Irvine, while he was photographing brilliantly lit refineries in south Los Angeles at night, frisking him and placing him in the back of a squad car for about forty-five minutes before releasing him.

The suit seeks damages on behalf of the three plaintiffs, and an injunction to prevent the unlawful search, detention and harassment of photographers by LASD in the future.

Case Developments

March 3, 2015
The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors approved a settlement with ACLU SoCal and the plaintiffs. Read the settlement. See the training required by the settlement.

October 27, 2011
ACLU SoCal filed suit on behalf of three victims of LASD harassment while photographing public places. Read the complaint.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Date filed

October 26, 2011


United States District Court for the Central District of California


Hon. Dean D. Pregerson

Case number