Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Blogger arrested for photographing cops

Published:Tuesday | December 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Photo of Errol Nisbeth handcuffed while in police custody.
Policemen talk to a vendor in Brown's Town, St Ann. The photographer and blogger, Errol Nisbeth, says he was harassed and arrested for taking the photograph. - Photos by Errol Nisbeth
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Errol Nisbeth, Guest Columnist

When I awoke on the morning of November 22, 2014, I had no reason to think my day would run counter to any other normal day in a place that I am proud to call my home, a place that I altruistically promote and market: St Ann, Jamaica.

I am a 29-year-old law-abiding Jamaican who has resided in Brown's Town for the past 10 years. I have the utmost respect for myself, my community, my parish, my country, its laws, and those who are tasked with the arduous undertaking of enforcing them.

For the past five years, I have operated a blog whose sole focus is the parish of St Ann and its citizens. This blog has, over time, become popular and influential. Subscribers rely on the blog for news, events, discussions and nostalgia.

On November 22, I was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice. My action that ran afoul of the law? Taking a photo - standing in excess of 20 feet away from public servants who were talking to a vendor on Main Street, Brown's Town.

I have always used photos extensively to strengthen messages on my blog. One such message is for vendors to always use the spaces and facilities that are designated for vending. A photo of officers talking to a vendor a few feet from his handcart would have been perfect for a message acknowledging the work of the JCF and reinforcing this message. One policeman thought otherwise.

I was approached and addressed by the young cop, who asked, "Did you just take a picture?"

"Yes, Sir. Is it illegal to take a photo?" I asked.

I am still shocked at what happened next.

"Hey, bwoy! Delete mi picture outta yuh phone!" he responded.

Surprised, I asked again if I had done something illegal, simultaneously pocketing my phone.

This is what happened next:

I was frisked, questioned and escorted to the Brown's Town Police Station.

My left hand was handcuffed, suspended to a shelf over my head for three hours - the entire duration that I was in custody.

I was castigated, searched and questioned again.

My wallet and phone were confiscated, searched without my consent, and photos, files and documents were erased.

I was denied a phone call to contact my lawyer.

I was denied station bail.

My family arrived and started the bail process.

With bail process completed, the officer on duty 'joked' that there were no keys to open the handcuffs.

The keys were produced and handed to a second officer who 'joked' that she could not open the handcuffs because she had chik-V in her wrist.

A few moments passed before she removed the handcuffs.

The mission of the JCF and its auxiliaries is to serve, protect and reassure the people of Jamaica through the delivery of impartial and professional service aimed at:

Maintenance of law and order.

Protection of life and property.

Prevention and detection of crime.

Preservation of peace.

At no point was my conduct a threat to the maintenance of law and order. At no point was my conduct a threat to anyone's life and property. At no point did my conduct prevent the detection of crime and the preservation of peace.

Additionally, at no point did the members of the JCF with whom I had contact throughout this experience extend service, protection or reassurance to me, a law-abiding citizen of Jamaica. They were neither impartial nor professional.

To date, I have searched the archives of our laws and I am yet to ascertain which law(s) I ran afoul of, and what code of conduct permitted my arrest and the destruction of my intellectual property that were unrelated to the incident.

At no time was I informed of which law(s) I had broken. And, at no time was I informed what justice my conduct was in contravention of that warranted my arrest for obstruction of justice.

Errol Nisbeth is an IT professional and the founder of a community advocacy group. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and errolnisbeth@saintann360.com.