Police Aggression and Coercion When Photographing by the Colosseum in Rome

# Published 27 July 2014

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UPDATE 8 - Thursday, 31 July 2014: 09:30:55 Italy Time #

An article about what happened to me last Sunday was published in Wanted in Rome, a "fortnightly magazine in English for expats and tourists living, or just visiting, the Eternal City" (not a law enforcement website! :) It includes a photograph of me and two of my photographs that were taken months before the incident this Sunday. Thanks to Wanted in Rome for publishing and to Amber for writing.

Here is a photograph of me holding my camera that was taken from me by Rome's Police:

GRS-20131216-224449
Simon Griffee in December 2013 with his Fujifilm X100S camera (serial number 32M10667) that was taken by Rome's Police.

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UPDATE 7 - Wednesday, 30 July 2014: 18:30:24 Italy Time #

I've sent a complaint to the British Consulate by email after speaking to them on the phone today. I'm a bit under the weather with the amount of paperwork and writing of the past few days, so apologies if I don't respond to you for a while.

After receiving a sympathetic email about my fear of the officers I remembered that during the initial 'questioning' (they did not let me answer any questions) at the police station I noticed a large wooden stick with paper taped to one of its ends in plain view resting on various documents on a side-table next one of the police workers present. I'm not sure if they always keep it there, or bring it out when they 'question' people.

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UPDATE 6 - Wednesday, 30 July 2014: 08:10:00 Italy Time #

Yesterday I spoke with the chief of security at my place of work (FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). I have now named my place of work in my original article below.

I have a record of my two calls to the Carabinieri (112) at 11:00 and 11:03 on Sunday, 27 July 2014, right after I was roughly grabbed by Officer A. We are also currently seeking to obtain security camera footage from the area.

If you were a witness to or have any footage of the events described, please contact me.

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UPDATE 5 - Tuesday, 29 July 2014: 18:50:00 Italy Time #

An article (in Italian) at La Repubblica's website, which includes my interview with them "After the advert." conducted earlier today.

One correction I would make to the article: The person that grabbed my arm was the first officer (Mr Officer A). He shouted "Give me your camera!" and then lunged toward me and grabbed my arm roughly.

Many thanks to Marzia for contacting and interviewing me and to my friends Alashiya and Ann-Kristin for putting me in touch.

There is now an Italian translation of my original report and some of the updates. Thank you, Riccardo!

Leggi la traduzione in Italiano

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UPDATE 4 - Tuesday, 29 July 2014: 14:16:28 Italy Time #

I was asked why I apologized to the police while in their office and in the car when returning from Tor Cervara.

I apologized because I was afraid, and was looking for a way out of what I was made to think was a hopeless situation. With no one to defend me present, with no phone, and under intense pressure from the Officer A (with the others simply confirming whatever he said without allowing me to say my version of events), I felt helpless and remained silent. I was made to believe that if I did not find a way out of the situation I would not be allowed to leave that day and would be imprisoned for an indeterminate amount of time until a judge could see me.

Needless to say I DO NOT agree with anything that was written in the report with the charges against me (I was not even given a copy of the report, or anything that indicated they have my camera), and was coerced to sign all the papers.

I have now found a lawyer, and thank everyone that has offered their help very much.

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UPDATE 3 - Monday, 28 July 2014: 17:03:39 Italy Time #

Thanks again for all your expressions of help and sympathy. I am currently taking legal advice and will stop updating this, let the legal process take its course, and write another post in the future. I have always held Rome's Police in high regard which is why I am shocked and disappointed about what happened yesterday.

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UPDATE 2 - Monday, 28 July 2014: 11:59:16 Italy Time #

@romacapitaleTW accuses me of wounding two of their officers. This is a lie. Anyone with photos or video documenting the events yesterday at the Colosseum please do get in touch.

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UPDATE 1 - Monday, 28 July 2014: 10:38:48 Italy Time #

  1. Thanks everyone — I am fine. I walk by the Colosseum almost every day on my way to work, and in the past year have increasingly witnessed violent behavior by the police there towards the Bangladeshi people selling goods to the tourists — I'm tired of seeing this, and don't care if what they're doing is considered 'illegal' — they are people trying to make a living and deserve better treatment. If that officer went crazy and lost control because I was taking pictures, imagine how these people must be treated. I am glad I saw it from the other side!
  2. Here is a leaflet (PDF 48kb) to print and carry with you in case you are confronted by a law enforcement agent or officer who questions your street photography activity. Thanks to Andrea Monti for this.

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Leggi la traduzione in Italiano »

# I was walking down Via dei Fori Imperiali, right next to where this photograph was taken, on my way to visit my mother outside of Rome. The time was around 11 a.m. on Sunday 27 July 2014. I heard a commotion amid the tourists walking on the sidewalk and when I turned to look I saw a Polizia Municipale e Protezione Civile officer whom I would later learn to be (real names withheld until I speak to a lawyer) Mr Officer A chasing and eventually violently grabbing by the neck a small man selling sun umbrellas in the middle of many tourists. I began to take photographs of the scene along with other people who were present. Mr Officer A suddenly leaped towards me and roughly grabbed my upper-left arm and backpack strap while shouting "Da mi questa maquinetta!" ("Give me this camera!"). I jumped back and stumbled away from him, losing my hat in the process.

# He shouted at me from a distance saying "Come here!" and I told him from a distance that I did nothing wrong. He picked up my hat and walked back to the police car. I called 112 for the Carabinieri and asked for help, and the official on the telephone indicated there were Carabinieri stationed by the other Colosseum entrance and that I should speak with them. I went to them and explained the situation. One of the Carabinieri accompanied me to the location where Mr Officer A's patrol car was parked. Mr Officer A together with his partner Ms Officer B, demanded I hand him my identification and I complied. I was explaining what happened to the Carabinieri when a third man in Polizia Municipale e Protezione Civile uniform came to me and began roughly asking questions, including where I am from and what my job is. He said they needed to take me to their office for questioning. The Carabinieri began walking away so I walked after him and asked him to help me a second time, and at this point Mr Officer A, Ms Officer B and the third Polizia Municipale e Protezione Civile man surrounded me and said I was resisting arrest and they would need to handcuff me if I did not come along.

# I entered the Polizia Municipale e Protezione Civile's patrol car which was parked here in Piazza del Colosseo with Ms Officer B in the back and Mr Officer A driving and was taken to the Corpo di Polizia Locale di Roma Capitale at Via della Greca, 5 00186 in Rome. I was taken to a room with two police workers whose names I do not know. While I was waiting I tried to telephone my wife and my mother but was not allowed to finish the call before they took my phone away from me and turned it off. Later when I asked to make a phone call they informed me I had already had. The third Polizia Municipale e Protezione Civile person who had roughly asked questions also arrived (I do not know his name), and he, along with Mr Officer A and Ms Officer B repeatedly gave false information, including falsely accusing me of pushing their colleague (the third man whose name I do not know) and of interfering with their work and letting the man they were trying to arrest get away (even if this were true, which it is not — they arrested the other man — it was the officer's decision to jump at me and let him go. I was only taking pictures and never got in his way).

# The police workers confiscated the rest of my belongings, including my wallet, telephone, and backpack with all contents as well as my Fujifilm X100S camera serial number 32M10667 and its memory card. They had my Italian driver's licence and Brazilian passport (which was in my bag as I needed to go to the Brazilian embassy later in the week). They proceeded to make various remarks clearly designed to make me afraid, including that I could be incarcerated for between 5 months to six years for resisting arrest, that they would signal my employer (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) about what happened (good!), and that they would need to take me to a station outside of Rome's center to be photographed since, despite being a resident here and also holding UK citizenship (though I did not have my passport with me), I was classed as a foreigner since I was not born in Italy. I kept silent as no lawyer was present.

# I was then driven to the Immigration Office at the Police headquarters in Tor Cervara in Via Teofilo Patini (angolo Via Salvati) by Mr Officer A with Ms Officer B riding in the back at very high speed with sirens activated. At Tor Cervara I was put in a cell to wait for a few minutes and was then taken to a room where I was photographed and had my finger and palm prints taken by officials there. While in Tor Cervara I witnessed several people of African and Indian origin in confinement in another large cell. Many of them seemed passed out on the floor. I left in the same car with Mr Officer A driving and Ms Officer B next to me in the back seat and was taken back to Via della Greca. During the car ride I spoke with Ms Officer B and indicated I was sorry for causing them trouble, but that I was very surprised at their reaction to me taking their photos. Ms Officer B said that their work is difficult and that they have orders to stop the illegal sellers around the Colosseum.

# Back in Via della Greca Mr Officer A read out to me a description of what happened from his own report, including the false charges against me, and I was instructed to sign various papers without a lawyer present (the police workers whose names I do not know were there as well as Ms - - - -, Ufficiale di Polizia Giudiziaria, whose name I found out later). I apologized to all present for taking up their time, including Mr Officer A, and shook Mr Officer A's hand, who by this time had calmed down. My Fujifilm X100S camera serial number 32M10667 with 8GB memory card and Fujifilm MP-95 battery was confiscated, in Mr Officer A's words, "in order to check the photographs" despite them being able to check them there in the station (and despite it not being a crime in Italy).

# I was informed I would be contacted in six months to come before a judge, and that I could get my own lawyer or have one provided by the state, and that the camera's return would depend on the judge's decision. I was released at around 14:00 in the afternoon. Later I realized my drivers license was missing from my wallet. I returned to the station and asked for it and it was returned to me by Ms. - - - -, Ufficiale di Polizia Giudiziaria, after signing another form. After inquiring about the camera Ms - - - - informed me its return would have to wait for the judge's decision.

I am currently seeking (please contact me):

  1. Any witnesses who were present at the location (there were many tourists, vendors and even Roman centurions present).
  2. Stories from anyone else who has experienced police aggression and coercion while photographing in Rome.
  3. An Italian lawyer with experience defending photographers (I am already contacting potential ones). I plan to contest all the false charges against me and press charges of my own should the chance of winning be high. I now have a lawyer, thank you.

I think photographing in a public place, and also photographing police officers in a public place, is not and should not be a crime.

Today I learned to have no illusions about how some in Rome's police feel about this, I learned that riding in a car with a siren on is exciting, and I learned about the plight of the less lucky than I in places like Tor Cervara. Who speaks for them?

And apologies to you, dear viewer, for this annoying pause.

Back to photographing.

—Simon

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