DART Dropped Charges Against Avi Adelman, but the Battle's Not Over Yet

Photographer and First Amendment activist Avi Adelman was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing shortly after taking this picture.EXPAND
Photographer and First Amendment activist Avi Adelman was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing shortly after taking this picture.
Avi Adelman

Avi Adelman was arrested on February 9, ostensibly for trespassing on DART’s Rosa Park’s Plaza, but really, the record suggested, because a DART cop didn’t like that he refused to stop taking photographs of paramedics treating a semi-conscious K2 user. A week later, on February 16, DART notified Adelman that it was dropping the criminal charge because “it was not consistent with DART Police policies and directives.” — something of an understatement given the dim view most courts have of restrictions on an individual’s right to photograph in public spaces.

The legal tussle between DART and Adelman is hardly over. Adelman is still barred from setting foot on Rosa Parks Plaza or DART’s other West End properties thanks to a criminal trespass warning that agency spokesman Morgan Lyons says remains in effect.

DART is also still fighting Adelman’s efforts to obtain audio from the incident under the state’s Public Information Act. On March 7, the agency sent a letter to the Texas attorney general asking to withhold the audio on the grounds that releasing it “would interfere with the pending [criminal trespass] prosecution by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office.” The two DART statements — one telling Adelman he was free and clear, the other telling the AG that, actually, there a criminal case is pending — seemed impossible to reconcile until Lyons said the pending criminal trespass case referred to in the AG letter is the one against the 20-year-old K2 user Adelman was taking pictures of, not Adelman himself. So DART isn’t lying, just reflexively hiding behind an overly broad exception to open records laws.

However one feels about Adelman — and plenty of people detest the neighborhood gadfly and cop-watcher — DART has not come out of the incident looking particularly competent. Adelman has annoyed dozens, perhaps hundreds of Dallas cops over the years, all of whom have managed to extricate themselves from the encounters without arresting Adelman, much less handing him an eminently winnable First Amendment lawsuit like DART has.

Then again, the arresting officer, Stephanie Branch, did write a pretty killer arrest report, which includes several masterpieces of English sentence construction, such as when it describes Adelman’s behavior at Rosa Parks Plaza on February 9: “Its was interfering with DFD #28 unit giving the white male medical treatment with feeling threatened by the sudden closeness of Adelman.”

Better still is how Branch incorporates dialogue into her narrative, which grabs readers and pulls them back to Rosa Parks Plaza on the evening of February 9:

Paramedics: “Hey guys that man is taking pictures and moving too close, beware. Keep him back and away from the our scene as we try to treat this man!”

Branch: “Sir please stay back so the fire fighters can help this man. Sir do not take pictures of DFD treating the victim give him some respect. Stay back.”

Adelman “No I have a right to be here and you cant not make me move. Do not touch me and I am not leaving. Call the sergeant and chief, cause I am not moving or leaving! I have emailed your chief and I will do it again. I can do what I want here.”

Branch “Sir please do not get any closer to the medical scene. Sir you’re interfering when you’re trying to get closer to take pictures. Sir please step back and DFD #28 give them space to work. Sir DFD unit does not want you to move any closer to the medical scene it is interfering with the direct treatment of the white male. DFD is not comfortable with you being this close to them, move back.”

[Adelman appraoches and asks for Branch’s badge number.]

Branch: “331 is my badge number and please move back. You’re interfering.”

Adelman: “Call your sergeant and chief. I do not have to leave anywhere and you can not stop me from taking pictures.”

Branch: “You can not keep getting close to the medical scene you will be seen as interfering as they try to help this person.”

Adelman: “I don’t have to move anywhere. I am on City of Dallas property. I do not give a damn about your or that man! Call you sergeant now!”

Branch: “Sir you are interfering with way they perform their duties to help a person by run up on them taking pictures. You can not run up and take pictures which will interfere with this mans right to treatment. You are interfering in medical treatment. Stop moving too close to the DFD #28 medical scene.”

Random Passenger: “Hey man move so they can help that man!”

Branch: “Leave the area and medical scene. Sir please get back. Please leave. Sir please leave the location and leave the medical scene. Sir please stop taking pictures you are too close to the medical scene. Sir you are interfering with DFD giving treatment. Sir are you using DART buses or trains?”

Adelman: “I am not leaving and I will not stop taking pictures. That man or you do not have any rights to not have me take his pictures. Hippa does not apply to me or him. He is no one!”

[Adelman is handcuffed. A sergeant asks if Branch requested that he leave the location]

Adelman: “Yes the officer told me to stop and leave. But I have a right to be in or on public place to take pictures. It is my right.”

There are a couple of problems with Branch’s approach. One, more of a quibble, is that quotation marks signal that words were spoken, verbatim, by an actual human being. The words between Branch’s quotation marks sound like the were composed by a malfunctioning robot. To wit, “Sir DFD unit does not want you to move any closer to the medical scene it is interfering with the direct treatment of the white male.”

Two, it’s not clear that Branch is being truthful about the reason for the encounter with Adelman. According to her report, which parallels what DART told media, paramedics repeatedly asked Branch and her colleagues to shoo Adelman from the scene. Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans has said repeatedly that paramedics never said that Adelman was interfering and never asked for him to be pushed back or removed.

There’s no law against lying to the media. There is, however, a law against putting false information on a police report. “If it can be proven that you’re actually making something up then it’s tampering with a government record,” says Toby Shook, Adelman’s defense attorney. Branch’s police report reminds him of a report written by one of the Dallas police officers implicated in the fake drug scandal of the early 2000s. “He stated these specific facts, and it was all made up,” he says. Branch is “kind of getting dangerously close.”

To be continued.

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