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Dec-14-2009 01:51TweetFollow @OregonNews
Top U.S. Photographer Arrested & Injured by Police for Photographing Santa ClausTim King Salem-News.com
Voted the best news photographer in the United States, Scott Rensberg was treated like an animal by police in Charleston, West Virginia.
(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.
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.
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