By Karen Brainard
A Ramona freelance photojournalist who claims that his First Amendment rights are being violated by law enforcement was recently issued a fine and three years’ probation for a March 2010 incident in the Albertsons parking lot where he was charged with obstructing and resisting sheriff’s deputies.
James Charles “JC” Playford also has a trial date of Aug. 9 for the same charges stemming from a May 25 incident at the scene of a fatal three-vehicle collision on state Route 67 near Rockhouse Road.
And he is appealing a jury’s May 18 guilty verdict regarding his arrest on obstruction charges from a Dec. 1, 2011, event outside Congressman Darrell Issa’s office in Vista.
In all those cases Playford said sheriff’s deputies seized his camera.
“What’s going on in San Diego County concerning cops and cameras is nothing more than domestic terrorism,” said Playford. “The federal courts across the country have ruled that these 148s the cameramen are being charged with are violations of my First, my Fourth and my 14th amendments of the Constitution of the United States.”
California Penal Code 148 is a misdemeanor that prohibits someone from resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer while he or she is performing his or her duties.
On March 9, 2010, Deputies Thomas Seiver and James Stemper of the sheriff’s Ramona substation were in the Albertsons parking lot on Main Street trying to calm a homicidal and suicidal woman, according to court documents, when Playford arrived and began filming. The woman had agreed to walk to the patrol car when she noticed Playford filming and said she didn’t want her picture taken, the records state.
Seiver reportedly asked Playford to stop filming, but testimony states that Playford continued to do so and the woman became increasingly agitated. Seiver arrested Playford for impeding the investigation and took his camera.
Playford’s attorney, Gary Harvey, argued that seizure of the camera without a warrant was unreasonable, court records state. Playford pled not guilty and the case went to trial on March 23, 2011. Another PC148 charge stemming from a situation on Feb. 28, 2010, was consolidated with the March 9, 2010, misdemeanor for the trial.
On March 29, 2011, Judge John Thompson declared a mistrial due to a hung jury. The next day, court records show Playford pled no contest. When he tried to withdraw that plea about 1½ months later, he was denied.
At his sentencing, held on June 28 at the East County Courthouse in El Cajon, Thompson issued him a $495 fine and three years’ probation.
Playford said by law he was supposed to be asked if he had anything to say before the sentencing.
“They didn’t give me a chance to say what I needed to say,” he said.
Playford said he is an “authorized and credentialed media representative” of American News and Information Services, Inc., which bills itself as a news and information company that operates throughout the U.S. and gathers and provides raw, breaking news video, photographs and news tips to mainstream media outlets.
The 49-year-old photojournalist has said that San Diego police and sheriff’s deputies often do not consider his American News press credentials valid.
According to Playford, he was prepared to ask the court to continue the sentencing at a later date because he is a named plaintiff in a lawsuit that will be filed in the federal court in San Diego against the district attorney and law enforcement officials.
“The federal complaint will address in greater detail the facts that have led to my being approached, detained, questioned, ordered to leave, and prevented from exercising my First Amendment rights as a duly authorized and credentialed member of the media,” Playford said in his prepared statement.
Edward Peruta, president of the Connecticut-based American News and Information Services, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Peruta said he questions why government can say who is and who isn’t media.
“Government needs to get out of the news business,” he said. “This case really attacks the government’s intrusion into the media.”