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Dec-14-2009 01:51printcomments

Top U.S. Photographer Arrested & Injured by Police for Photographing Santa Claus

Voted the best news photographer in the United States, Scott Rensberg was treated like an animal by police in Charleston, West Virginia.
Scott Rensberger

(CHARLESTON, West Va.) - An award-winning video journalist from Washington was arrested Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009, for taking pictures of Santa and a choir at a West Virginia mall, and he says the police officer's actions during the arrest nearly dislocated his shoulder.

47-year old Scott Rensberger thought he had the situation under control, but when he went to take a photo of a police corporal named "R.C. Basford", he was suddenly in for a police 'take down' and down to the ground he went.

Rensberger says he told the arresting officer in Charleston, West Virginia, that he had a football injury and that his shoulder could easily dislocate. He says the police officer responded by applying more pressure, repeatedly.

Before we go on, here is what the BBC's Laura Ellis wrote about Rensberger in an article for National Press Photographers Magazine in March 2008.

"Scott Rensberger has been a Video Journalist longer than just about anyone in the world. There's a clue in his physique. 20 years of carrying all his kit on his back has given him linebacker shoulders and worsened a damaged left ankle he's planning to get surgery on just as soon as he finds the time. Aside from this, he has a shelf full of awards, a business which takes him around the globe and enough funny stories to keep twenty after dinner speakers happy for a decade."

The situation at the Charleston Town Center Mall began when Scott stopped to take pictures of Santa Claus and a choir while he was Christmas shopping with his girlfriend.

A couple of dads at the mall apparently didn't like Scott taking pictures that may have included their children, so he obliged their requests, and actually erased the section of images that may have had their children. He was cool about it, many photographers would not be.

The last person that talked me into erasing footage from my camera was an intelligence colonel in Iraq surrounded by a team of his people telling me that for national security I had no choice, get the idea? Rensberger was above and beyond the call as a human being in obliging the requests of these men.

He told the Charleston Gazette, "I took some pictures of the choir singing and I took some pictures of the Santa snow scene."

"I take my camera with me almost anywhere." He is one of many photojournalists in this nation packing broadcast and professional photography equipment, it is what we do. From what I understand, in this case he was only using a small digital camera.

After dealing with the two uncomfortable fathers, he moved along with his girlfriend and went into some other stores to do some shopping.

On the way out, he paused to get more Santa photos.

In case anyone really needs this explained, Santa photos at a mall are standard fare for news photographers, it is a nice thing, we like holidays too, and anyone who has ever worked as a press or media photographer has spent their days doing the Santa mall photo shoot.

The mall in this case, contends that shoppers can take pictures of Santa, but professional journalists can't. Pro photographers sometimes take photos simply for their own use, because it is a special holiday event. Beyond all that, Rensberger says there wasn't even a sign there to inform people of this mall's hardline rules over a person's freedom to simply take a photograph.

As Scott resumed grabbing a few images of Santa, the two dads from early on were suddenly talking to some cops and mall security guards and pointing at him. Soon they were approaching, even though he had already erased the images in question.

According to the Charleston Gazette, Rensberger was approached by Charleston police Cpl. R.C. Basford who asked him, "Why are you taking pictures of kids?"

Rensberger was insulted. His reply to the officer was, "I can't believe you are asking me that." He then asked, "Do you mind if I take a picture of you?"

As Rensberger reached in his pocket to pull out his camera and take a picture of Basford, the officer held his hand up to the lens. Rensberger told a reporter he thought the camera was going to hit the ground, that is why he brought his hand up.

He remembers hearing Basford say, "Don't you touch me." Even though Rensberger told the officer he wasn't touching him, the West Virginia cop went totally physical on him.

Rensberger was quoted in the Gazette saying, "Then he grabs my left hand and takes it around my back while Santa and the kids and everyone looked on."

Rensberger has spent his life traveling the world, covering conflicts, risking his life so people can see the results of world events.

Rensberger in Bosnia

But for the slightest confrontation with a police officer, over taking a picture of Santa Claus, he was suddenly worried that the officer was going to dislocate his shoulder.

"I'm begging him not to do that and he responded, 'If it dislocates, I'll call the paramedics.' By no means was I trying to resist arrest."

But he now faces Resisting Arrest and several other charges.

As this physical wrestling to the ground took place, and Rensberger worried that his left shoulder would dislocate easily, he said he was begging the officer to ease up.

"Every time I begged him he put it up higher," Rensberger said.

The complaint against Rensberger alleges that this award-winning world level news photojournalist, who has never been arrested in his life as a photographer, slapped the hand of Charleston police Cpl. R.C. Basford as the officer attempted to block Rensberger from taking his picture.

Basford wrote that Rensberger, "attempted to pull away."

Those were his grounds for taking down a grown man and treating him with apparent wanton cruelty. For taking a picture. Rensberger contends that he was not under arrest when he took the photo, and what he did was not illegal.

We report from time to time on these situation involving police and their inability to use proper amounts of restraint, or reason.

When it happens to a fellow photojournalist who has covered wars like I have, I have a very difficult time with it. Laws protect police officers from any type of physical assault and anyone who ever is convicted of assaulting a police officer can face severe sanctions, including long periods of incarceration, etc.

On one hand, I'm glad there are laws state that a person can't hurt a law enforcement officer, but when police use this law to bully people and show a general lack of respect, or southern justice as it may be in this case, with a special license, they are unprofessional and unfit to carry a badge, with few exceptions.

As far as "internal investigations" go, police are protected by departments, unions, and politicians. It is hard to get a cop in trouble, though we will keep an eye on this case and see how it develops.

I hope Scott Rensberger seeks justice in this case and I will check in with the police in this city and inquire as to whether or not the officer will be sanctioned. I have a feeling I already know the answer, that's how things tend to work in this country. Police enforce laws, but they don't always follow them.


Charleston Gazette: Photographer arrested at mall after taking holiday photos

WCSH TV Man Arrested After Taking Holiday Photos

National Press Photographers Association

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), the first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several other awards including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address:

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OldSanta December 10, 2010 9:38 pm (Pacific time)

This typical of Charleston cops. I could tell you some stories you wouldn't believe.

Micky J February 23, 2010 12:28 pm (Pacific time)

no surprise all the trolls probably cops coming in here and defending some guy getting abused by some jack boot for taking a picture of santa.  People are pathetic.

Anonymous January 16, 2010 5:50 am (Pacific time)

What a complete crock...! typical redneck cop with a nazi attitude. Since when does taking pictures warrant treatment like that? I used to believe that americans believed in freedom. It seems those days are gone...

Jack December 19, 2009 10:06 pm (Pacific time)

Tim. Everything you've been writing is clearly biased (facist?). And very comical that you are accusing others of being narrow minded and bias. Take a breath and please review your laws. I didn't write them, but until we change them, they are there none the less. Commercial photogs do not have the right to go onto and into private property and do what they want. That Sir, would indicate arrogance, which I believe you and similar thinking people are guilty of. You also avoid the issue that whether all photogs of children have innocent intent and you slam the parents or cops for being concerned. If you cannot understand the laws and concerns and cannot work around them using common sense and not apply a 0-60 drama scene, then what are you doing in this business? You are not above the law and neither are those cops. And the photog could have avoided ALL of this by simply getting permission. He knows that and you should to. Imagine that. Hmmm. Respect begets respect. By-lines still don't exempt you from being a journalist and presenting a factual story. Be careful with the power of the pen and wield it responsibly.

December 17, 2009 6:55 am (Pacific time)

I'm not completely condoning the officer's actions, if, in fact, this is how it happened, but the comment eluding to how bad law enforcement is in this county troubles me. Try doing this to the police in one of the many foreign countries that you visit and see what happens. He may not have only been afraid of dislocating his shoulder! People are quick to condemn the actions of law enforcement in this county when they rarely have all the facts. The fathers of those children and the police may have perceived the events a whole lot differently than presented in this article.

Tim King: Well they cut off your head for taking photos in some countries, is that the best you can do for comparative analysis?  Police abuse is a terrible problem in America and that is all that happened here; we who document the nation and world's events do not have time for this type of BS, we aren't that small minded and we have to really work to even imagine what some people are imagining or conjuring up.  I don't think there is any reason to defend the mall cops, they are obviously some small town officers and they have predetermined bias toward anyone with a camera, and people who don't respect themselves tend to not respect others, and that is apparently what happened.  The biggest joke of all is that most of us out here avoid surreptitious photography, but it is always an option and the quality is coming up.  If people bust our asses for taking an honest photo, then we'll just switch to cameras that you will never know are there, that is where this argument leads.    

Jack December 17, 2009 10:59 am (Pacific time)

Good Reporting (sarcasm). Like how you forgot to interview any wits and determine the truth. Also the probable issue was the photog was told to not take pics. The malls (especially enclosed) are PRIVATE property. It is common knowledge among REAL journalists that permission must be obtained first. This photog is allegedly in the business.
The security guards aka: Mall representatives, were with the officer pointing to the photog. The officer did not act on his own. This 'photo-journalist' knows the laws as should this 'editor' and they choose to disregard, apparently from arrogance. The bias of this reporting and the 'editor' is as embarrassing as cops protecting other cops. You sirs are arrogant and dishonest, NOT fitting to be called journalists. Had the photog cooperated, any issues could have been handled. But choosing to make a scene and feign mistreatment, he is untrustworthy, and I would never take any of his pics for publication. This paper's representatives and the photog are juvenile and embarrassing.

Tim King: Jack, does your mind not allow you to understand that this guy was simply taking Christmas pictures?  Geez, work to defend fascist behavior for the outlets of retail America, I don't care what you think personally, and I assume most of our readers will get a chuckle out of this.  These cops are a JOKE and I suspect they are nothing but embarrassed by this.  You're not talking about just a photojournalist here pal, you are talking about the number one guy in the nation, you and your overzealous mall cops are the ones to worry about. 

LAHeat December 17, 2009 5:39 am (Pacific time)

Has anyone heard of the FIRST amendment in Salem? What the heck is going on? We indict SEALS doing their job and now a photographer is the victim of excessive force and an illegal detention and arrest? Well, the civil suit for violation of the 1st + 4th amendment should at least ease the pain!

Oregon Reader December 15, 2009 4:15 pm (Pacific time)

douglas benson, Actually, complaints against the police (at least in Salem) are not available to the public.

Fred M J December 15, 2009 12:56 pm (Pacific time)

For an ex-police officer and pofessional stardard chief,I'd gives this cpl a three day vacation on out of his pocket. "get em" Scott!

jimmy December 15, 2009 12:40 pm (Pacific time)

makes me want to take my camera down to the mall right now.. "Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?"

Mojo December 15, 2009 9:38 am (Pacific time)

Welcome to backwoods America!

Oh wait, Charleston is the State Capital of West Virginia with a population of >50,000.

No mall cop jokes either, as this officer is a "real" police officer.

SALEMTATTOO.COM December 15, 2009 10:17 am (Pacific time)


Proof December 15, 2009 9:15 am (Pacific time)

New York Times: Justin Blair is not a rarity as national court volumes of libel and slander cases acknowledge when it comes to unethical and dishonest behavior from the media. FOX News Network has never lost a lawsuit for lying or anything else. Can you name one that has been missed? If the reporter has a case he can easily sue. There are plenty of security video's recording the incident. His attorney can get them and put them on the internet so all can assess the facts. Of course it's unlikely we will hear any converstions, but most cops now record incidents of their interactions.

douglas benson December 15, 2009 8:45 am (Pacific time)

First no one has any expectation of privacy in a public place second if property owners that open thier doors to the public have policies against photography on thier premisis they must clearly post such restrictions . Mr. Rensberger should file his complaint and sue then make sure that the pro stand division follows up and demand that the results be placed in this officers file ,a matter of public record by the way .Most importantly make sure it stays on his file By checking periodicly for at least a year. Standard practice ,first discourage the complaint refuse to give the paperwork tell the complaintant they have no grounds .Second toss the complaint in the trash .Third put reprimands on the file then remove them a short time later .

Jeff K - December 14, 2009 2:34 pm (Pacific time)

I would agree with "another photographer" in that Mr. Rensberger should seek damages. Since when are photographers, journalists or photo-journalists not allowed to also be shoppers? Seems to me, a good attorney would have the aggrieved party "owning" that mall. Pictures of Santa talking to children. How horrible. It's not like he was just following children around; then maybe the cop could've had some reason to at least ask some questions. But to physically attack someone for taking pictures in a public place? Come on. Some holiday spirit!

Vic December 14, 2009 1:33 pm (Pacific time)

This is the E-mail address of the Charleston Police "Dept of Professional Standards". I sent him an e-mail with a link to this story and asked him if he felt this was professional...havent heard back from him yet.

another photographer December 14, 2009 1:11 pm (Pacific time)

This is an outrage, the cops are a joke in this place, I hope he sues them.

Anonymous December 14, 2009 11:13 am (Pacific time)

Only because you are a reporter, be careful where you take pictures especially if you want to take pictures from people. The problem is, that the most of the reporters and anyone who works for papers are arrogant and ignorant of other peoples feelings. I personally don't like reporters at all. They sure never tell the truth.

Editor: Reporters in America can photograph anything they want as long as they are on public property.  It is ridiculous that malls which are obviously completely accessible to the public, take this borderline-fascist approach.  I sincerely doubt you know very many people who work in news, you seem to rely on some kind of a stereotype.  Most people in news are at least people who want to make a difference in this world.  If reporters don't tell the truth, they are typically fired and lose their place in the business.  You must be used to watching FOX News, that is the one that actually allows reporters to lie.   

Anonymous December 14, 2009 5:24 am (Pacific time)

Hmmmm. Cops roughing up a photographer. Nah! Never happens!

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