Dallas Doctor Busted Under Texas' Improper Photography Law, Which Sure Seems Unconstitutional

Categories: Crime

FlickrCamera.jpg
Damgood
In late March, the parent of a high school cheerleader emailed a tip to the Observer. Last fall, she wrote, Dallas radiologist Dr. James Summa was arrested at a Mesquite High School football game and charged with improper photography for snapping pictures of underage girls.

We confirmed the arrest with Mesquite PD, but Mesquite, ratified by the Texas Attorney General's Office, refused to release documents from the case because Summa's alleged crime qualifies as sexual abuse of a child.

Fox 4's Becky Oliver did manage to get the docs, and several anonymous outraged parents. From her piece that ran Monday:

Friday night football at Mesquite High School draws a big crowd. Last October, one man in that crowd also grabbed the attention of parents and police.

"All of a sudden, an officer came around me, starting looking over his shoulder, leaning down and then he grabbed his camera and grabbed him from the shoulder and I saw him lead him out," said the mother of a cheerleader.

Records show police arrested Dr. James Summa for improper photography, which is a state jail felony. The police affidavit says detectives confiscated Dr. Summa's camera and found still pictures and videos, and the focal point of those images was on "female's legs or buttocks region." It says surveillance video also shows Summa walking with some young girls "holding his left arm straight down to his side while holding the camera as still as possible."

Police says Summa did not have any relatives or friends at the game, and lives 20 miles away.

It definitely sounds creepy, but a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine?

Under Texas' amazingly broad improper photography statute, yes. It makes a criminal of anyone who "photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room without the other person's consent; and with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."

The constitutionality of the statute has been challenged repeatedly, both informally on legal blogs and in formal court challenges.

In 2011, a state appeals court ruled the law constitutional. Two years later, another appeals court ruled the opposite, sending the matter up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court.

The court heard arguments in the case on Wednesday morning. The justices have yet to issue a ruling, but First Amendment advocates are concerned that the improper photography statute is way too broad and could have a chilling effect on legitimate photography.

Here's an excerpt from a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the case by First Amendment attorneys.

This focus on only a particular kind of content -- "visual image[s] of another" -- makes this law content-based (though not viewpoint-based). No First Amendment exception justifies this sort of restriction; the law is not limited, for instance, to obscene images or to child pornography. And the First Amendment fully protects photographs generally, and the creation of photographs in public places in particular.

Moreover, the law (whether or not it is viewed as content-based) would in practice deter a wide range of speech. As the court of appeals recognized, [it] would potentially apply to fans or professional photographers who photograph sports figures, cheerleaders, or celebrities -- subjects who often exude sexual appeal and who might not want to be photographed, even in public places. It could apply to photographs taken by tourists, who may seek to capture the look of a city, including both its architecture and its residents. It could be used to punish any student, amateur, or professional photographer (including a journalist) who photographs figures during events containing sexual undertones, such as many gay-pride parades, Halloween celebrations, and dance parties.

And in such cases, the intent element may do little to safeguard against improper criminalization of protected speech. A police officer, prosecutor, or jury might infer intent to arouse sexual desires from the attractiveness of a photographer's subjects, or from the fact that the subjects were dressed in revealing clothing (whether on the beach, at a sporting event, at a nightclub, or at a gay-pride parade.) Even a photographer who has no sexual intentions might be worried that others will infer such intentions, and that he will face an arrest at best and a felony conviction at worst. Thus, in addition to impermissibly criminalizing a substantial amount of protected speech, [the improper photography statute] threatens to chill still more, as some speakers avoid creating expressive works that they fear might even arguably fall within the state's broad reach.

In short, do you really want a cop deciding what you find arousing? (Hint: No).

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

My Voice Nation Help
47 comments
bigwavedave
bigwavedave

The images were taken of the young girls buttocks and legs.  He was taking pictures with the camera down by his side to get up the skirt. If he was trying to actually take a legitimate picture of the girls for no gratification, he would have held the camera normally and not had an emphasis on the girls backsides.  There are two parts to the law. Only on section of the law is in question.....ie that he was in a public place, not a restroom or a dressing room.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Laughably Unconstitutional


How fucking retarded are Texas Lawmakers?



MichaelLeza
MichaelLeza

There is no possible harm in taking a picture of a person in public, with the exception of people in witness protection programs, who probably shouldn't be attending public sports games anyways.

perpetualafk
perpetualafk

The law is used that way to give police a better discriminatory judgement. If he had decided to be taking pictures of literally anything else, he probably would have been fine.


But upon interviewing him, there was probably suspicion on the officer's part even before taking in the camera. And not the kind of suspicion that can be written down on paper. "I've been on the Force twelve years and you can sometimes tell a pedophile when you meet them, particularly in these kind of circumstances" doesn't go over well on paper.

No parent likes the idea of photos of their child being used for masturbatory purposes. That's a kind of violation that goes beyond simply taking photography. That's taking something from the children that shouldn't have to be even thought about yet.

They probably used this particular law like that, specifically in these circumstances, to get that man away from those kids. Could there be abuse of this law? Sure, but if someone could find me some examples, that'd be great. Otherwise, it was an expedient method to resolve what could have potentially been a bad situation.

I feel that certain loopholes like this within the law aren't always bad.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

It could be that every individual has right to not having picture taken without permission, not just celebrities.  Crowd shots are one thing.  Individual photos without permission are another.  It has nothing to do with intent or age except we might have an age where person is not mature enough to understand the request.

veruszetec
veruszetec

Ah, the good ol' thought crime.

Pick up that can, citizen.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Well, If they can bring charges against a teenager for texting nude pics of herself to classmates, the ought to be able to bury this fool under the jail.

fred.garvin.mp.713
fred.garvin.mp.713

So if I take photos of Cowboys cheerleaders do I have to get permission from the whole squad, or just each individual?

finchfamily4
finchfamily4

His intentions are the issue here..........


TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

I'm so glad I worked as a news photog when I did. When I needed some filler photos, it was always reliable to go to the school playground, shoot kids having fun. I would be scared to do that now, for obvious reasons. Sad.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

All three local newspapers run 50-shot spreads of party scenes.  

And we peruse them because of the women.

My personal faves are the bikini blings.

DOisDUMDUM
DOisDUMDUM

Defending cretins as usual. 


Eric deems this unconstitutional on the grounds that photographing unsuspecting underage girls is free speech but somehow campaign contributions are not speech. 


Why do you support chesters so hard, Eric?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

Restrictions on photography in public places has fared very poorly in courts. Taking photos is seen as an extension of free speech. Moreover the intention of the photographer, which the Texas law heavily depends upon ("... with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.) is something few courts are willing to deal with.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

What about, no expectation of privacy? Vague shit. He is definitely creepy, but tbis law can get a cop dashcam or lapelcam too in the right circumstances.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Under this law, photographing farm animals could be deemed illegal, since bestiality provably exists.

ryan762
ryan762

@perpetualafk 12 year-old girl takes a picture of her friend (in a towel) in locker room. Deletes it minutes later. Doesn't send it to anyone else. Convicted under this law.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@MikeWestEast  ... and what of a mega-pixel "crowd shot" that is then later photoshopped and cropped down to a single person in the crowd?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@bvckvs If you think it's hard get guns out of the hands of the NRA, wait until they try to pry cameras and iPhones out of the hands of ordinary folk.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@finchfamily4  ... so two people engaged in the EXACT SAME physical behavior -- taking pics of the same subjects -- would be treated and prosecuted differently merely based upon what the "thoughts/intentions" were, or were not?


Epic Constitutional FAIL!

veruszetec
veruszetec

@finchfamily4  Unless he publicly disclosed that he couldn't wait to jack off to the photos later, how are you going to prove his intentions?

Further, do you really want the police deciding what your intentions are? He could have been composing a scrapbook of his favorite cheerleader uniforms, for all you know. Odd? Yes. Impossible? Absolutely not. Who's to say what he thought?

The statute needs to be re-written at best, or abolished all together. Photography in public spaces is well-protected by the Constitution, and this position has been upheld by the US Supreme Court on more than one occasion. If you're in public, you're in public. Behave accordingly. If you don't want to be photographed, don't go in public.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@finchfamily4 The law has a very hard time discerning intentions. And once we start legislating against "intentions,"where does it stop?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@TheRuddSki "... shoot kids having fun...."  I'm surprised Myrna hasn't jumped on this one.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@homantx

What an underhanded shot at JackJett.

veruszetec
veruszetec

@DOisDUMDUM  Can you prove what he planned on using the photos for?

Unless he had a diary on him with the most recent entry of "Can't wait to get home and jack it to these cheerleader photos!", then you can't. So, fuck right off. We don't do thought-crime here in America, at least not yet.

fred.garvin.mp.713
fred.garvin.mp.713

You might want to read the piece. It isn't just Eric that supports First Amendment rights.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@bvckvs @veruszetec  

Please reread the excerpt of the statute quoted in the article, the relevant portion repeated here:

"...  and with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."

The key word is  intent.  He is being prosecuted for his potential thoughts.

That being said, I think that the guy is very creepy  and possibly a major scumbag.


Besides, I guess that Victoria's Secret fashion shoots might be out of the question in Texas.

fred.garvin.mp.713
fred.garvin.mp.713

The statute does not say it's ok if they're "of age," it just says "another," presumably at any age. This law won't stand up to court challenges, because it's too broad. It may have passed under the best intentions, but it's terribly written.

Looked at another way, I could be charged for a crime if I take photos of Cowboys cheerleaders and then use them to beat off, but I should be fine if I take similar photos of underage highschool cheerleaders but use them in a non sexually-arousing art installment.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@bvckvs @fred.garvin.mp.713The specific case involved underage girls. The law itself would apply to Cowboys cheerleaders as well.  THAT is the crux of the argument here.  The law basically makes any picture, of anyone or anything, a potential felony.  Specificity is important in laws.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@RTGolden1

Well, she does accuse me of being on the run from some crime, or being on Social Security welfare - maybe this will help her decide which it is. Since I'm only 60, that might help her narrow things down.

Luckily though, all the kids I shot survived - but I still got paid.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

Camel-toe photography is one of the more popular courses at Pepperdine.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Or anywhere thatv awards Animal Husbandry degrees. Uuuuggghhhhh

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@bvckvs My point was that regulating cameras is going to be a lot harder than regulating firearms, and we know how hard that is.

But of course that's a reasonable statement. And so in order to make a big fuss it's necessary to re-interpret it as you did. This is pretty standard fare among certain commenters, who prefer to follow the rhetorical low road. Too bad, bvckvs. We might have had a useful discussion on the limits, if any, that might be applied to photography in public. Or on the threats to privacy, if any, in an age where everybody caries a camera with them everywhere.  

MichaelLeza
MichaelLeza

@bvckvs @fred.garvin.mp.713  


Actually, that's not the law. The Constitution is the highest law of the land, anything that disagrees with it is null and void. This law disagrees with it. Congress does not have the authority to pass this law and law enforcement does not have the authority to enforce it. When they do so anyways, it is they who are breaking the law, the police by engaging in 'Color of Law' violations and the congress by violating their oath of office. As much as judgemental self righteous pricks like to wail about "protecting the children," there is no harm that can come from having your picture taken, barring exception circumstances like witness protection, which this law is in no way connected to. Even if someone takes a picture of a cheerleader and goes home and masturbates to it, no one was harmed. In fact, if your intent is to protect underage cheerleaders (or children in general) this is actually counterproductive.

But lets be honest, this isn't about protecting children, it's about attacking people who aren't following the social scripts and trying to force conformity.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@TheRuddSki  But they no longer teach penmanship.

shows you where their priorities are.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

This is mild, most kids today are taught Camel Toe by third grade.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@TheRuddSki  

It won't last even here at Unfair Park.  It'll get yanked as soon as the kids get through rush hour and home.

Tactically, this time period presents an avenue for the kids on the blog to go wild.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

Gawd, I love Summer. Great vid, probably banned in Dallas.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

I certainly hope these comments mean you cretins aren't anti-GM.

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...