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Old 02-17-2006, 01:28 AM   #1
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Join Date: Nov 2004
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Default Another rail photographer victimized

Another rail photographer victimized in security hysteria frenzy

Despite the recent commendable action by New Jersey Transit to back
off its effort to criminalize railway photography (see New Jersey:
Major victory in effort to resist criminalization of railway
photography), the "terrorism" hysteria engulfing the USA continues
to prompt transit and law-enforcement authorities to target and
harass innocent railway and transit photographers the leading edge
of a national and even worldwide drive to criminalize
such "unauthorized" photography.

Virtually every segment of public transportation is being affected,
with examples continuing to come to our attention. One would think
that Amtrak's intercity rail passenger service carrying a
relatively high proportion of photo-snapping tourists would be
immune from the hysteria infection. But, alas, as the following
incident from last August (2005) suggests, such is not the case.
James Craig Bourgeois of Houston, Texas provides this description of
his (almost "worst-case-scenario") experience:

My biggest fear, in recounting what happened to me August 19, 2005
in New Orleans, is that people will have a very difficult time
believing me. I am sure some folks will be sure I am embellishing
the facts, exaggerating, or outright lying. None of this is the
case. Everything I state here happened as I say it.

I am a 60-year-old, recently retired pharmaceutical rep, with three
grown sons. I have a particular fondness for trains, and riding on
Amtrak. Friday morning, August 19, I departed Houston on the Sunset
Limited, bound for Pensacola, Florida for a short vacation. The
train had a layover of several hours in New Orleans, so I thought I
would kill some time taking photographs of the terminal and Amtrak
facilities. I had taken a lot of photographs along the way, and I
have started a photographic album intended to document the Sunset
Limited all the way across Louisiana. There is no way to know how
much longer Amtrak will run this train.

It is important to know that there are no signs on the platform
forbidding passengers from walking down the platform into the area
beyond where the lead engine would be, and no signs that prohibit
passengers from taking photographs. There are "No Trespassing" signs
on the gate to the Amtrak maintenance facility, on Earhart, but they
are not visible on the platform.

Two female Amtrak employees drove by and asked me what I was doing.
I said I was taking photographs, and that rail photography was a
hobby of mine. They admonished me to "watch out for the Amtrak
police." I did not take that warning seriously, because I was not
doing anything wrong. I joked that maybe "they would beat me up, so
I could file a multi-million dollar lawsuit." That, being an idea so
ridiculous, anyone would know it was meant in a humorous vein.

I walked a little further down where I encountered a young guy, who
was also an Amtrak employee. He inquired as to why I was
photographing the switcher, and I explained to him that I was just a
railfan, and I wanted photos of the Amtrak equipment. I asked if I
could walk further down the platform to take a couple more
photographs. He said he preferred I wait until he could get someone
to accompany me down there. I said "fine", and I waited.

By then the two female employees had returned and we were all
standing around talking and waiting for whoever was supposed to come
to see about my request. After a while an Amtrak policeman arrived.
I figured he would say I could, or I could not go further down the

When he got out of his car, I could see he was already in a highly
excited and agitated state. He was not in the mood to dialogue. He
explained I was trespassing on private property (remember, no
signs), and was not supposed to be taking photos. I was not about to
argue with him, or be the least bit confrontational, knowing the
reputation of New Orleans police, but this was an Amtrak policeman,
and I was an Amtrak passenger. I merely inquired if this was not
public property, since Amtrak is a publicly supported entity. At
that he told me to turn around, and he handcuffed me.

I naturally protested that I had done nothing wrong. But he was
determined to handle things the way he had, I believe, decided to
handle them before he ever showed up. He took me up to his office,
and contacted someone, who I assume was his superior. He gave the
person an embellished, and almost completely false account of what
happened. For instance, he stated I had said, "This is public
property, and I can be here if I want to be."

I begged the policeman not to take me off the train, but he
continued to repeat that I was "going to jail." I really got upset
at this point and insisted he let me talk to someone in the Amtrak
office. After asking him over and over to let me speak with someone,
he finally put an agent on the phone. I told the agent at the
terminal I had done nothing wrong, and to please come get me out of
this mess. The agent said he could not override the policeman, and
generally conveyed the attitude that he did not give a damn what my
predicament was.

The policeman ran my ID, and, of course, it came back that I had
never been arrested, and that I had no criminal record. He was
unfazed by that information, and instructed the agent to remove my
bag from the sleeper room I had occupied. In the stress of the
moment I forgot about my large hanging bag that was in the lower
level rack. It made it to Orlando, and I will get it back this week.

As we were driving out of the terminal area, on the way to the
Orleans Parish Prison, he pointed out the "No Trespassing" sign on
the chain link gate, which is not visible to any passenger on the
platform of the terminal. Upon arrival at the jail, I was processed
in, and at that point the Amtrak officer committed a gross violation
of procedure, by keeping my wallet, camera, and a pocket knife that
the jailer had taken out of my pocket. This was to have major
ramifications, later, when I finally had the opportunity to bail
myself out of the facility.

He had also erased certain photographs in my digital camera, while
up in his office, a violation of my civil liberties. While waiting
for him to show up I had photographed two A-10's that were flying
over. He wanted to know why I had photographed the A-10's. I
responded, "Because I'm a pilot." I do hold a private pilot's
license, but my response seemed to stun him slightly, and he moved

The Orleans Parish Prison is one of the worst jails in the country.
The jailers there treat all inmates with contempt [and] disdain, and
do everything they can to make you feel there is no light at the end
of tunnel. My charge, incidentally, was criminal trespass.

You cannot bond out until you are "processed." For hours I watched
other inmates come and go, while my name was never called. Earlier,
in an odd difference in procedure, the watch captain said, "O.K.
Bourgeois, go to that window." I thought I had it made, but when I
got there, the first thing they wanted was a photo I.D. Too bad, it
was in my bag at the Amtrak police office. So, I had to be put
through a nationwide fingerprint search, which added more time to my

I went in the jail at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, slept (what little I
could) on the concrete jail floor, instead of the viewliner bed I
had on the Sunset Limited, and at four o'clock Saturday afternoon I
was still in jail. I could have been out at 11 a.m. of the same day,
but with no money, or debit card (remember, they were taken from
me) I could not bond out. So, along with about 60 other inmates, I
was put in the orange suit and moved to the big prison, with the big
cell block, just like you see in the movies.

By the grace of God I had done one thing right. I had managed to get
a phone book and write down the number of my cousin, who lives in
New Orleans. All phone calls out had to be collect, and you had to
have the number. I can remember exactly two phone numbers in my
head, one being [that of] my brother who lives in Lake Charles. I
was finally able to get in touch with my sister-in-law, and she made
numerous phone calls for me; most importantly to my friends in
Pensacola, who by now, were frantic. Not to mention my youngest son,
who lives here in Houston, who was sent into a tailspin. My cousin,
who had been gone when I first called, was home now, and around 6
p.m., she came down and paid my bond. In the manner of doing things
at the Orleans Parish Prison, I walked out of the jail at 12:30 a.m.
Sunday morning. I recovered my belongings the next day at the

My vacation I had looked forward to was destroyed. My friends and
family had been traumatized, as [you only] can be when you cannot
account for the whereabouts of someone.

The lasting psychological effect of this is hard to predict. I have
been quite depressed since I came home. The overwhelming fact is, I
committed no crime. You cannot arrest someone for trespassing, when
there is not even a sign saying "no trespassing," and you cannot
arrest someone for taking photographs.

The entire amount of time that the officer spent with me on the
platform could not have been over one minute. What motivated him to
arrest me, when he could have easily said, "You cannot be here go
back to the train," I cannot say. What really bothers me is he
obviously felt he could get away with this gross example of false
arrest, and deprivation of civil liberties.

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