NYC Photojournalist Takes On Police Corruption/Abuse

Shawn Randall Thomas2

by Carlos Miller of PINAC

For ten years now, Shawn Randall Thomas has been fighting for the right to record  on the streets of New York City, landing him in jail six times and in handcuffs many more times without a single conviction to show for it.

Today, he is back in court for his latest arrest, a case that should have been dismissed back in February and should have resulted in the firing of NYPD officer Efrain Rojas after the video went viral showing the cop bullying and assaulting Thomas for recording an arrest from more than 30 feet away in a subway station.

And Wednesday, Thomas is back in court again over another arrest from last October where he was accused of recording inside a courtroom, which he never did, so they charged him with disorderly conduct, accusing him of using profanity, which he never did, seizing his phone and demanding he provide them with his passcode, which he never did.

That arrest, which he describes in great detail on his blog,  took place outside a courtroom within minutes after a judge dismissed a case against him from a June 2013 arrest where he was video recording outside an NYPD police station in an attempt to identify the cops who had arrested in January of that year for recording them making an aggressive arrest, which he also goes into detail on that same blog post, especially about a dirty cop named  Sgt. Mohammed Karimzada.

And he only resorted to recording the police station (video below) after the district attorney’s office continually refused to provide the names of the arresting officers during the discovery process, even though they falsely accused him of possessing a stun gun, which is illegal in New York City,  not that they were ever able to produce said weapon.

It was New York State court officers who arrested him outside the courtroom October 25, incidentally 24 hours after he filed a complaint against them with the Inspector General for arresting him on a prior occasion where he was handing out cards from a public sidewalk outside the courthouse, informing citizens of their right to record police.

All those arrests took place after the FBI arrested him on two separate occasions for photographing federal buildings in 2006 and in 2009, before the Department of Homeland Security was forced to acknowledge in a 2010 settlement there was no law against photographing federal buildings. He reached out to me after the second federal arrest, which Iwrote about here. 

Thomas was also awarded a $3,500 settlement around that time after NYPD cops ordered him out of a subway station because he had photographed a checkpoint they had set up where they were requiring commuters to open their bags upon entry.

It’s been a non-stop battle for him since 2004 when he was ordered by Secret Service to delete a photo of the back of a building being used by federal agents during the Republican National Convention.

“I didn’t know my rights as a photographer back then,” said the 48-year-old Brooklyn resident.

But he didn’t waste any time in learning his rights, reaching out to the ACLU since the civil rights organization had set up field offices around New York City during the convention, which nevertheless, has so far resulted in more than two million dollar in settlements with many more to go.

Once he learned the law was on his side, at least on paper, he started waging a one-man war against city, state and federal authorities over his right to record in public during the post-911 hysteria that had overtaken New York City in the years since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

His videos show he is not one to back down. A street smart, camera-wielding New Yorker with knowledge, not intimidated by street talking, gun-wielding New Yorkers with badges. A calculating man not afraid to roll with the punches as he learns how to beat the system at its own game.

So he is taking this week in stride, secure that his video and pro se arguments will help him prevail in each case respectively, wondering if Rojas will even have the gall to show up.

But it is also clear he has become a marked man, a thorn in the side of the system; a system not used to losing; doing all it can to smother his rights and freedom in order to send a message that public accountability from citizens will not be tolerated.

So perhaps we can give King County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson’s office a call at (718) 250-2600 or (718) 250-2000. Ask for Assistant District Attorney Charles Guria, who is assigned to his case.

Thomas, who was billed more than $1,000 for an ambulance ride from the jail to the hospital for injuries sustained from the arrest, stated the following on his Facebook page last week.

As I understand it, the Kings County District Attorney (Kenneth Thompson) is very much aware of the video, and the ADA assigned to this case, as I understand it, really does not know what the District Attorney’s Office is going to do, he is awaiting instruction from “his supervisor”.

To me, this speaks volumes about the integrity of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and the D.A. himself (Kenneth Thompson). Here they have a case given to them by a cop (Officer Rojas) who they certainly know is a corrupt cop; a persecution where they factually know that the accused committed no offense. Yet they will not refuse to prosecute. Instead opting to have me placed in jeopardy while they seek political solutions, my guess is that they are searching for an out for Officer Rojas.

In the past a N.Y.P.D. Officer, Michael Ackerman, was indicted for doing pretty much the same thing Officer Rojas did in this case. The difference being that the photographer, Robert Stolarik, was working for The New York Times and is not a Black Male. Also, the Ackerman crime took place in Bronx County where the District Attorney’s Office has been known to openly frown upon Police Misconduct, as opposed to here in Kings County where, generally speaking, a Police Officer can do no wrong. Perhaps the newly elected Kings County District Attorney could benefit from some mentoring from the veteran Bronx County District Attorney.

Whatever the situation, I refuse to give up or give in. As far as I’m concerned, a declaration of war has been made and I’ve accepted it.

It was only this January that Thomas reached out to the newly inaugurated district attorney on his blog, asking for accountability.

Hello Mr. Thompson, My name is Shawn Randall Thomas. Congratulations on your winning the Office of District Attorney.

I’m a 47 year old “African-American” male, and one of the formerly convicted. I was born and raised in the Fort Greene housing project, literally, although my parents were not living there at the time of my birth, I was born in Cumberland Hospital, which is actually within the confines of that Housing Project. We moved into the project, our first time in public housing, when I was about 4 years old.

I’m the full time parent of two girls, a 6 year old and a 1 year old. I say full time because the conventional roles of mother and father in my household are reversed, and it was that way from day one. Often people see me with my children and kind of marvel as if they are witnessing a dad during visitation, not knowing that it’s actually the norm for me.

For employment, I’ve earned my dime as a Photographer for much of the past 12 years. Most of my work being at night, at home, and the occasional weekend wedding. However, I don’t shoot professionally as much as I use to. I’ve taken up a new career, thanks in large part to Law Enforcement Officials with Integrity issues. It’s a little dangerous, time consuming, with very little pay if at all, but I’m more committed to this job than I am to my own safety.

They say that when you push to hard or to often, you get pushed back. Well I got pushed to hard and way to often, meeting my breaking point on January 4th, 2013 when some cops falsely arrested me, filed false charges against me, planted a weapon on me, stole a camera from me, and deleted video from my cell phone. Then threatened to take my children and place them in the care of the State. All because I video recorded a cop abusing a black woman with a small child, without legal justification.

It was then that they picked my new career for me. It was not the first time “The Law” violated me, but it would be the first time that I would not accept it, and go after them.

I’m writing to you, not simply to welcome you to office, or to tell you my life story, but to inform you that this is going to be a tough year for you. I intend to see dirty law enforcement officers charged with crimes when there’s sufficient evidence to support the charges. And I intend on redirecting the public anger against the Police Department for abusive cops, onto the District Attorney’s Office for its wrongful use of discretion in declining to charge law officers where there’s evidence to support the charges.

He is scheduled around 10 a.m. at the following address:

Kings County Criminal Court
120 Schermerhorn Street

New York media. It would be great if you can cover this. Thanks!

UPDATE: NYPD officer Efrain Rojas did not show up to court today, but that doesn’t mean the Kings County District Attorney’s Office will let it go.

No, they informed Thomas that they will continue to pursue charges of obstructing, disorderly conduct, trespassing and resisting arrest.

Now his trial is scheduled for June 17.

He also found that the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau is not even investigating a case against Rojas as initially assured because they say they don’t investigate “discourtesy” from officers.

In other words, the fact that Rojas allowed himself to be distracted from an investigation to harass Thomas for recording him from 30 feet away, assaulting, handcuffing and arresting him on false charges where he spent 24 hours in jail – not to mention a few hours in the hospital from injuries sustained – during the time in which Rojas no doubt deleted Thomas’s footage , then wrote up on the following report proven false by the recovered video, is simply a result of a cop having a bad day.

He will not be investigated. He will not be disciplined. And he will not be fired.

So much for Commissioner Bill Bratton’s new-and-improved NYPD.

Rojas statement

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