Previous: I-70: Epilogue: I-15 (10)

Next: New in the library: Kameda Bōsai (2)

Miami artist harassed by cops

Post #1198 • June 20, 2008, 10:16 AM • 64 Comments

Momoko Sudo is an artist I know from Miami. Since coming from her native Japan several years ago, Momoko has had to endure a lot of nonsense that makes one want to apologize on behalf of one's country. Last week, while out for a walk in Coral Gables, she decided to take a photograph of a police motorcycle. An officer responded to this by ordering her to hand over her camera and change its display from Japanese to English, at which point he deleted the entire memory card, took it out of the camera, and threw it on the ground. All the while he subjected her to verbal intimidation, and when she asked a fellow officer to identify him, he refused to do so as anything except "Rodriguez." (If you know anything about Miami, you'll appreciate that "Rodriguez" is not a sufficiently unusual name to identify a particular person out of a group. Which was, of course, the point.) She has put up a page describing the ordeal on her website.

How many things are wrong with this? I am not, repeat not, a lawyer, but let's start with the big one: what the officer did was illegal. While specific laws vary from state to state, there are typically only two restrictions on photographing out of doors. First, an officer can ask you to relocate out of the immediate vicinity of a crime scene to a nearby location, and you must do so. Second, if you are photographing on someone else's property and they ask you to leave the premises, you must do so.

Otherwise you can take pictures of anything you want that happens in public. This means that you may photograph police at work or at rest. You may photograph police vehicles, police weapons, police animals, and police equipment. You may even photograph officers who fail to understand the law and have proclivities to threaten diminuitive Japanese women. Or if you like, their motorcycles. They in turn have no claim whatsoever on your camera or its contents.

Secondly, harassment of photographers by police is becoming increasingly common and it is endangering the public. Security guru Bruce Schneier wrote about this two weeks ago on his website, in an essay entitled The War on Photography. He calls the link between photography and suspicious activity a "movie-plot threat," and notes:

The problem with movie-plot security is it only works if we guess the plot correctly. If we spend a zillion dollars defending Wimbledon and terrorists blow up a different sporting event, that's money wasted. If we post guards all over the Underground and terrorists bomb a crowded shopping area, that's also a waste. If we teach everyone to be alert for photographers, and terrorists don't take photographs, we've wasted money and effort, and taught people to fear something they shouldn't.

Momoko has already availed herself of the city's complaint process, but I'm about to take the liberty of contacting the Coral Gables Chief of Police, Michael Hammerschmidt, at, to comment on this post and answer the following questions:

1. Is it Coral Gables Police Department policy to harass photographers and destroy the contents of their cameras when they photograph police equipment, and if not, how do you explain the action of the officers in this incident?

2. What advice do you have for a photographer who finds himself or herself subjected to threatening treatment by Coral Gables police offers who refuse to identify themselves or each other?

I recently criticized the public funding of art, but it's on issues like this that I'm truly ready to go to the mat as a libertarian. However minor this incident is in comparison to the horrifying erosions of civil liberties under the Bush regime, this lands too close to home for me to countenance. Please act accordingly and appropriately if you feel the same.




June 20, 2008, 11:23 AM

first, she should not have handed over the camera. Second, she should have asked for badge number, not name. Third, if there are no witnesses there is not much she can do except find out the duty officer at that precinct for that time and complain directly to him and hope Rodriques at least gets chewed out. Also write to the paper, the mayor and local state representative, for what its worth.



June 20, 2008, 11:28 AM

Also make sure when contacting anyone to get the PRECISE FACTS: where, when, what was said, who was there etc.

She can also lodge an official complaint if whe wants to go through the hassle. I wouldn't.


Why bother?

June 20, 2008, 2:05 PM

I know it's important to raise your voice, but these people (the goverment) can make her life a living hell if she tries to tangle with them. It's scarey to think that a cop can take, not only your camera, but they can take you, and feed you to the fucking alligators if they so choose.

I was going to send an email to the Chief Big Shit at the Coral Gables police department, but I don't want him showing up at my house at night.

Copbots are best left alone, and only engaged if someone is robbing you.


Chris Rywalt

June 20, 2008, 3:47 PM

On behalf of all Americans, I apologize to Momoko. This sucks.


Chris Rywalt

June 20, 2008, 3:49 PM

Also, I've done my bit to keep photography free. (Scroll down. Be sure to click on the "CAMERA USE PROHIBITED" link.)



June 20, 2008, 6:06 PM

You've got to fight the power. Ungh!



June 21, 2008, 9:32 AM

she might be interested in taking a look at this:



June 22, 2008, 8:04 AM

I had a similar thing happen to me in Pittsburgh while trying to take a photo of an office building (PPG Place). According to the very grumpy policeman, nobody is allowed to take a photo above a 45 degree angle! If I wanted the picture, I would have had to walk at least ten blocks away. I didn't feel like arguing. But I'm also not visiting Pittsburgh any time soon either.



June 22, 2008, 9:37 PM

November 2001 I was visiting the Maryland Institute's sculpture department, which is situated in an old train station (and platform), and past which trains still ran. The stonework and ironwork were ancient and beautiful, and I was taking some photos of it when a cop came out of nowhere and told me I couldn't take pictures near the tracks. He was polite enough, I guess, but he'd been sitting in his car staking out the site. It surprised me and pissed me off - I merely said, "alright." I had fanatical facial hair at the time, which could've worked for or against me, but after showing him my passport and driver's licence I wasn't asked to hand over the film. I still have the prints.



June 23, 2008, 6:12 AM

There are data recovery services that should be able to restore the deleted files without much trouble if you haven't overwritten the disk.

They do cost a bit, however. Have an attorney meet with the city attorney, Elizabeth Hernandez, and let her know that even if you don't contest the motorcycle issue -- which you have every right to do -- the police had no business deleting the other photos you've taken.

They should pay for data recovery.


Miguel Marcos

June 23, 2008, 7:11 AM

There are data recovery apps as well. Data recovery services should be the last resort as they *are* expensive. The data apps are around $30 or so or free sometimes when included with certain cards (like the Sandisk Ultra III 4g I bought sometime ago).

Among others: (shipped with some Sandisk cards)

On the core issue about the officer, it's a shame and an embarrassment. An officer is hired to work for civilians and should be someone you seek out for help, not someone to wantonly brandish abuse and accusations. I haven't found myself in any similar situations but I understand how unsettling and powerless one can feel when it happens. Whether to pursue or not: It's for me to say this sitting here writing this, but if no one pursues such incidents they will become the rule rather than the exception. Society needs to demand respect from officers in the same way that officers demand respect from society.


that guy

June 23, 2008, 9:17 AM

Wow, I had a friend who was photographing some protesters in NYC when some cops strolled into his picture frame. He was separated from his group, arrested, had his camera smashed in front of him and suffered some painful abrasions on his wrist when they were zip tied too tight. This has got to stop. I heard of being camera shy, but these guys are down right photophobic.

His story ended more or less happily he sued the bejebus out of the city and banked coin on damages. I say fight the cowards. The slighted hint of a lawsuit should be enough to send them packing.



June 23, 2008, 12:06 PM

It's beginnign to sound as if there is some kind of vast right-wing conspiracy against photographing cops



June 23, 2008, 2:02 PM

I wasn't even aware that sort of thing was taking place there. Most people in Miami seem to be very open-minded about art because they were raised in an environment in which art events take place on a weekly basis.


Cedric Casp

June 23, 2008, 3:10 PM

Try take photographs of works early in the morning at Metrotech Centre's park (Public Art Fund).

Just try it. Tell us about the lovely experience
that you will have.

Thanks you so much Public Art Fund for still presenting public art there after I wrote a complaint of being harrassed by policemen years ago.



June 23, 2008, 4:11 PM

My other cop-photo anecdote dates to February 2004 in NYC. I participated in a hundred-thousand-strong peace march to the UN Building, which NYPD dandily managed to divert and disperse onto dozens of small streets and alleys everywhere but at the main building. I have a couple photos of police standing shoulder to shoulder to shoulder in a human barricade and of mounted police driving their horses into a particularly heated group of protestors. Except for being herded along with all the other cattle (mothers with strollers and fogies with canes) for miles more than I had planned or was reasonablby able to walk, and despite my standout goodlooks, I was not a victim of camerage that day.


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2008, 8:00 PM

I haven't been harassed by the police in New York City at all, ever, unless you count the time they double-parked my car in on 25th Street (or thereabouts) while giving out tickets to everyone with an open container.

But I get concerned when I see signs like the big flashing highway light sign just outside the Lincoln Tunnel reading "USE OF FALSE ID IS A CRIME". That's way, way too 1984 for my taste. New York has become something of an armed camp -- guards checking bags in the subway, at the entrances of all major buildings, guys with M16s and riot gear walking the streets -- which is hilarious, since having the entire United States Army in Manhattan wouldn't have prevented September 11th.

It'll be good news, I guess, that when the next attack occurs, not one of the victims will be carrying so much as a pocketknife.


carlos miller

June 23, 2008, 8:01 PM

Just posted about this incident on my blog, where I document police abuses against photographers.


change is gonna come

June 24, 2008, 3:42 AM

Very soon armed resistance against the rising fascism in this country will be necessary. Perhaps it is too late. I will very seriously consider strong (ie physical) resistance and attempt to start the revolution when this begins happening to me. I will lose, and I will likely die, but perhaps I will become a martyr. This behavior can not be tolerated in what is supposed to be a free country. When the cops intentionally and clearly violate your rights, over and over, it is time to stop obeying and respecting the cops. If those sworn to protect the rights of the citizenry consistently and intentionally fail to do so, the individual must demand and enforce their rights by whatever means necessary.



June 24, 2008, 4:48 AM

Who cares about stupid Sudo? She should have continued to take pictures of her water lilies and leave the police officer alone. in her country they would have cut off her hands, she should be happy she got the camera back.


Chris Rywalt

June 24, 2008, 5:42 AM

In case anyone was wondering why fascism continues to flourish. Thanks, Jorge.



June 24, 2008, 6:54 AM

Hey, let's get a dialogue going between Jorge & Mr. Change.

That ought to zap the guidelines and get the N word here in a jiffy!



June 24, 2008, 7:26 AM

I'm in the UK and this type of activity is well known. Yesterday an enthusiast who took pictures of a bus was stopped and questioned by police after a driver suggested he might be a terrorist or paedophile!

Our laws are the same as yours but since the introduction of new 'terror' laws the police can effectively do as they want. We are very close to a police state now, sadly.



June 24, 2008, 8:18 AM

I've used Sandisk's Rescue Pro software to recover files. Maybe that cop wasn't where he was supposed to be and that's why he went wild.


jim winters

June 24, 2008, 8:19 AM

cops suck


Not terribly surprised

June 24, 2008, 8:33 AM

This incident, going by the description above, sounds completely unacceptable and totally out of line. Of course, if there were no witnesses and it's just her word against that of the cops, she's almost certainly going to have a hard time getting suitable redress if she pursues the matter.

It's really shameful that she was put through that experience if there's no legal basis for what happened. She obviously posed no physical threat. "Power trip" definitely come to mind. Unfortunately, I'm afraid this is not some freak occurrence, but rather a symptom of entrenched attitude issues.

In my limited experience, there are problems with the "authorities" in Coral Gables. I once got a ticket there for parking where there was no signage of any kind to say I couldn't, and I wasn't causing any obstruction or creating any hazard. When I finally reached the relevant person, I just got some surly non-answer which meant I had no recourse but contesting it legally. That would have cost a good bit more than the ticket, which of course they knew, so I paid it.



June 24, 2008, 11:15 AM

More dead cops might make the hurting stop



June 24, 2008, 11:35 AM

Lighten up, folks. The cops are dealing with the bad guys 99% of the time.



June 24, 2008, 11:38 AM

I don't advocate harming police or anyone else.


Chris Rywalt

June 24, 2008, 12:32 PM

It's a song. Not a very good one.

I don't believe in violence of any kind but I can understand why people might be driven to it. I get really angry when I get a speeding ticket. Imagine spending your whole life getting abused like that.



June 25, 2008, 5:05 AM

this is an astonishing, but not altogether surprising, story. i feel bad fr Momoko, and frankly embarrassed, even though I'm neither a cop or an American.


Momoko Sudo

June 25, 2008, 5:31 AM

I would like to report that my xenophobic police page had 4,441 hits (4,070 unique visits) within 24 hour period on the day of June 24, 2008 (yesterday). People all over the world are very interested, and apparently readers are circulating the link to others.



June 25, 2008, 6:51 AM

Momoko, plainly, it sounds like you were mugged. The offender, if he can be found, should be dealt with appropriately, according to the law.

Maybe if you go to the same location, at about the same time, you'll find the criminal, and then you can maybe take his picture so as to identify him to police...



June 25, 2008, 7:03 AM

MC, if you are not careful someone might actually take your advice one day



June 25, 2008, 7:33 AM

Yeah opie. I would not follow the advice provided in comment #33.



June 25, 2008, 7:44 AM

MC is of a subtle and devious mind, Eric.

This was a put-on, of course.



June 25, 2008, 7:47 AM

Thanks for the clarification opie. I don't know MC and blog comments are not the best vehicle for subtle nuances in discourse.



June 25, 2008, 8:24 AM

On the contrary, gentlemen. Although I will add that Momoko should not do this alone. She should be accompanied by some friends, also with cameras. Video would be good...


Momoko Sudo

June 25, 2008, 8:24 AM

If anyone wants to wear my fashionable "headgear," you can borrow it free of charge, unwashed since the incident. You would have to use your own camera, though.



June 25, 2008, 8:25 AM

I doubt xenophobia is the real problem here. I can easily see the same thing happening to anybody. The problem is that authority always carries with it the temptation to abuse it, and if impunity seems likely, the temptation becomes much easier to indulge. That's why a lot of people are not fit to hold authority, because they can't control themselves enough to use it properly.



June 25, 2008, 8:26 AM

... oh, and if one of your friends is a lawyer, that'd probably help, too.



June 25, 2008, 8:29 AM

I presume the writing on the bandanna says something like "kill whitey" and "jihad" in Japanese...



June 25, 2008, 8:57 AM

which the cop instantly comprehended...



June 25, 2008, 8:59 AM

No, MC, she said "why'd he abuse me"



June 25, 2008, 1:53 PM

You people need to step back and look at the big picture.

First of all, You all know that there are always two sides to the story. I know all of you would call the cops if someone was taking pictures of you or your family or even your home. RIGHT!!! Maybe this Sudo chick just started snapping away. If she had any manners she would have asked him to take a pic of the motorcycle and I bet you he would have even taken a pic of her on it. It’s all about how you approach people even cops because underneath the uniform is a person just like you and me.

I have been victimized several times by thugs, and the cops where the ones I counted on being there for me and they were. So I want them on my side and if that means not taking pictures of them then so be it. The way violent crimes like armed robbery and home invasions are going up because these thugs don’t want to work makes me do anything to be on the cop’s side.

So if you people say you don’t like cops then don’t call them when you are being robbed and keep them available for the people that do appreciate the job they do. How many of you would put your life on the line for a comlete stranger? Not many out there would and those that would are firemen, cops, etc.



June 25, 2008, 2:10 PM

If these cops had any manners, they would have kindly asked her to desist.

I have a huge amount of respect for cops in general, who are doing a hard and frequently dangerous job. But these particular cops overstepped their authority and the law of the land. I know this may be hard for you to understand, Marc, but those ideas are not mutually exclusive.


Carlos Miller

June 25, 2008, 2:27 PM


If everybody decided to not photograph or film cops, simply because it bothers the cops, then we would have never seen the Rodney King video.

Nor the countless other videos of police abuses that you can find all over Youtube.

As difficult as police officer's job may be, they must still maintain professionalism and respect towards civilians.

Of course we all want the police to be there when we are attacked by thugs, but do we really want police officers who are unable to control their temper on the force?

What if they mistake you for a thug?


Carlos Miller

June 25, 2008, 11:38 PM


If everybody decided to not photograph or film cops, simply because it bothers the cops, then we would have never seen the Rodney King video.

Nor the countless other videos of police abuses that you can find all over Youtube.

As difficult as police officer's job may be, they must still maintain professionalism and respect towards civilians.

Of course we all want the police to be there when we are attacked by thugs, but do we really want police officers who are unable to control their temper on the force?

What if they mistake you for a thug?


Momoko Sudo

June 26, 2008, 8:39 AM

I am attempting to recover the lost photos in the 1GB memory card. I've tried, so far, four programs that claim to recover the data. Two of them didn't work. One of them costs me $40 but allowed me to see the previews of retrieved photos. The thought of being have to pay any amount of money makes me upset.

There are 373 photos and they are all high resolution files. One of the programs is free and seems to be working but it will take a few hours to scan it. If it doesn't work, I will use the one that would cost $40.

There's only ONE picture that is clearly related to Coral Gables Police!

The program is scanning the card, but it take a long time because the date is huge. I will keep you posted.


Chris Rywalt

June 26, 2008, 9:29 AM

Save early, save often. Remember the three rules of computing: Backups, backups, backups.

Not that I follow my own advice.


Amado Cruz HErmida

June 26, 2008, 10:21 AM

I think what happened to Momoko Sudo with the Coral Gables Police and to Carlos Miller with the Miami Dade Police is just a sign of the terrible injustice that have been going on since the Bush regime took power. As a BFA candidate and photography student it saddens me that I might have to deal with the same ignorant behavior that others are having to deal with worldwide because of improperly trained, improperly qualified, incompetent government workers. Who, as I mention over at Amado Cruz Hermida, work for us. Thanks to our taxes, they get to eat. Hopefully with a change of guard things will get better but for sure staying quiet about it is not an option.


Momoko Sudo

June 26, 2008, 2:37 PM

I am very careful with my digital images. That's why I didn't know about data recovery thing because I NEVER lose images. It's just that I didn't expect someone take away my camera suddenly and delete everything, so the thing is different in this case. Such thing had never happened to me prior to that day.

Since this thing is huge (1MB) it took hours to scan, then it may take another few hours to save them. The preview is impossible to view because the entire thing is so heavy and my computer isn't that fast. I had chosen to use the cheaper service ($27).

But when I finally get the photo with the police, what do I do with it? Send it to the Coral Gables Police???


Momoko Sudo

June 26, 2008, 4:09 PM

Here's the photo I was able to recover (with a paid service).
I tried free services, but they didn't work for me.

Click here to see the picture!



June 26, 2008, 6:26 PM


Nice photo. But notice that you have both blown-out highlights and buried shadows -- classic high dynamic range photo. Remember that digital cameras actually capture less dynamic range then film. In the future, when making this type of image, I would recommend turning on your flash.

Seriously, good job on your handling of this situation.


Momoko Sudo

June 26, 2008, 6:47 PM

With a flash the cop would have gotten more aggravated. If I had used a flash, I might have well be in jail or shot to death right on Coral Way.

When I use a flash, Lulu, the sweet stray cat, hates me for a few days. She dislikes it so much... It got to the point where she runs away when she sees camera. A bit like a police except that Lulu doesn't abuse power and the cops don't run away from you when they see a camera with you.


that guy

June 26, 2008, 8:30 PM

Nice to see rodriguez hard at work. Great pic.


that guy

June 26, 2008, 8:34 PM

On second thought that can't be coral gables police. They only have a fleet of Beamer cycle cops. (trust me I should know) anyway this looks like Miami PD all the way notice the chub around the mid section.



June 26, 2008, 9:44 PM

This is moral victory even sweeter than a legal one.



June 27, 2008, 5:00 AM

all i know is to take a photo to an officers and their equipments are prohibited and i think momoko should ask for approbation before she do it. otherhand, the officer should not do for offensive act to her, i think he must tell momoko with gentle.



June 27, 2008, 7:06 AM

No, taking pictures of police officers and their equipment is not prohibited, unless you are interfering with their job. Simply taking their picture is perfectly fine.

In the US you cannot stop someone from taking any picture they want in a public place, of things or people that are also in public. This includes police.

Many police simply think they are "special" and that they can control what photographers do.



June 27, 2008, 7:10 AM

By the way, it is sometimes hard to refuse when police are demanding things of you, but without a warrant police have absolutely no right to demand to see your camera or the pictures on it. If a policeman demands to see your camera, the correct answer is, "I will turn over my camera once you give me a search warrant for it."

However, I do not recommend continuing to refuse if the policeman threatens violence. The decision of whether your life and health are more important than standing up for your rights, is not a decision I can make for you.


Chris Rywalt

June 27, 2008, 7:44 AM

It's possible that the police do not require a warrant to seize a camera. I'm not a lawyer, but the cops have surprisingly wide latitude in many areas. A friend of mine was detained by police who thought he was a wanted criminal (they both had the same name). I called a local lawyer friend to ask what he could do about it, and he told me the police can detain someone for at least 24 hours for any reason they want. If they hold the person for longer than that without a good reason, then they could maybe get in trouble. Maybe. But that first 24 hours is a freebie. The lawyer told my friend to just do what the cops said or the trouble would get worse.

The fact is, on the ground, rosy interpretations of the law evaporate. I'm an idealist myself -- I'd personally like to see someone fight this kind of thing all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary -- and I'd like to think I'd fight myself if I had to. But I've come to understand that there are battles -- especially at the small-town local level -- that simply cannot be won.

For example, did you know that local traffic court decisions cannot be appealed? If you contest a speeding ticket and the judge finds against you, that's it. The end. Now that's America!

Of course cameras and photography are a different area, what with free speech and all. So I don't know. I just wouldn't count on Internet-based interpretations of case law.


Chris Rywalt

June 27, 2008, 7:46 AM

P.S: The police determined my friend wasn't the criminal they were looking for by receiving a fax of the criminal's signature, having my friend sign his name, and comparing the two by eye. For that he, his pregnant wife, his seven-year-old daughter and my daughter were detained in his car for four hours or so.


I can relate

June 27, 2008, 9:12 AM

Regarding 62, yes, some battles are best not fought, even if you're in the right, because the deck is clearly stacked against you. That's why I paid for a parking ticket which could not be justified (see 26). The time, effort and money it would have taken to fight it, even if I'd eventually won, would have been too high a price to pay (much higher than paying the ticket). The system knows this perfectly well, which is one reason it's frequently so cavalier about screwing people over.



Other Projects


Design and content ©2003-2021 Franklin Einspruch except where otherwise noted