That picture you just snapped of the cute cheerleader at a Southlake sporting event could land you in jail accused of a felony, and get your face in Dallas' news media accused of a sex crime.
Couldn't happen, you say? Get ready for this: it could.
A Southlake Police Department spokesperson so much as told us so, and last weekend's arrest of North Richland Hills resident Louis Vogel may prove it.
Vogel, 60, was walking around Southlake's Oktoberfest snapping pictures of people with a digital camera--among them, women and children.
According to sources, a woman complained to a police officer about Vogel's suspicious behavior. Police responded by stopping Vogel and examining his camera. On it, as Southlake Police news interviews would later detail, police found 12 pictures that depicted "specific parts of women's and children's bodies."
Perhaps, however, it would be more accurate to say that police found pictures of clothing covering "specific parts of women's and children's bodies."
You see, all Vogel's "victims" were fully clothed and milling about in a public venue.
Vogel was arrested and accused of a felony by Southlake Police under a relatively new law passed in 2004 titled "Improper Photography or Visual Recording." It reads, simply:
A person commits an offense if the person: (1) photographos or by videotape or other electonic means visually records another: (A) without the other person's consent; and (B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person;
Yes, but who makes that determination?
So how did this situation come to pass? For that, we may have to ask one of the Barneys, or perhaps "Barbie" Fife.
Southlake Police Lieutenant Ashleigh Douglas is responsible for the Southlake Police department's public relations.
"Obviously (Oktoberfest) was a public venue so all of the subjects were fully clothed," Douglas said confirming everything that was shot by Vogel was plainly visible.
According to Douglas (who would not elaborate as to specifics), some of the pictures were shot from "angles that a normal person taking photographs would not shoot." Others were zoomed in on "certain body parts."
Certain clothed body parts.
"The (improper photography law)," Douglas explained, "is a tool to combat some things that are occurring in public areas."
"It is designed to stop (certain) things from being posted on the Internet."
But Vogel didn't post his pictures on the Internet--and nothing in our interview or anyone else's indicates this was his intention (though we've never spoken to Vogel).
Vogel never had the chance. He was arrested at the scene, jailed and his camera seized.
So was Vogel a dangerous rapist or pedophile? According to Douglas, Vogel had no previous criminal record of any type.
So why the high profile television interviews and the press releases?
"Part of the reason for a press release is to get (more victims) to come forward," explained Douglas.
But, nowhere in any police interviews, was there an appeal for victims to respond. The press release read in full:
On Sunday, October 9, 2005, Southlake Police arrested a 60-year male subject for improper photography. The subject identified as Louis J. Vogel of North Richland Hills, was observed by officers taking photographs of women and children during Ocktoberfest at Southlake's Town Square. Charges have not been filed at this time, as the investigation continues.
Southlake, rather Douglas, simply appears to be touting the arrest.
"It sounds like the Southlake Police are beating their tom-tom and trying to convict this guy in the press," said a source in the Dallas Police Department who asked that we not identify her.
"They wanted to get in the first punch before negative articles started appearing."
So back to the title of this article.
Southlake has quite a high school sports community. Could a Southlake dad actually be arrested for taking pictures at a Southlake sporting event--say, photographing cheerleaders at a football game.
We posed the question to Douglas. Her answer made it clear that it's not out of the question!
"I think I see where you're going with this," said Douglas, "it depends on what the picture is focusing on."
If it is a "general" shot, then a person is "probably OK." However, Douglas said, "if someone zooms in on the crotch area (they could be arrested)."
What is a "general" shot? What constitutes "zooming in?"
Who judges the shot?
According to Douglas: "our investigators."
I am a married father of two children: a 9-year old girl and a 12-year old boy. When I saw the Channel 5 story, I'll be the first to admit that Vogel sounded creepy.
Really, really creepy.
I don't much like the idea of anyone taking pictures of my wife and kids for any purpose other than strictly innocent--let alone for what the Southlake Police Department says Vogel was going to use them for.
It's creepy. Really, really creepy.
However, some of the panhandlers or street people I run into from time to time are really, really creepy. Heck, I'm probably really, really creepy to some people (I bet I could find someone who would say that!).
But what I like even less than really, really creepy people is this notion of arresting people for "thought crimes," and the demonstration that someone can get arrested for photographing fully clothed people in public places.
How did we get this law?
It was drafted by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis back in 2004. At the time, Internet bloggers and photographers predicted eventual abuse.
The "improper photography" law was touted as a bill to curb clandestine photography in locker rooms and bathrooms. I don't believe it was Senator Ellis' intention that this bill be used by the Southlake Police Department to arrest and demean creepy people (but we're going to call him and ask).
But the law was so broadly written that it leaves, open to interpretation by the Barney and Barbie Fifes of law enforcement, those details which should be very closely defined.
Me? A picture drying off at the gym after a shower? That should be illegal (perhaps on grounds of "bad taste").
But taking pictures of people in public, wearing what they intended for the world to see? I don't know about that.
Here we have a 60-year old married guy with no previous criminal history--not even parking tickets. He's running around with a camera taking pictures and being really, really creepy.
He's arrested for taking pictures of clothed people from "unusual angles," judged "innapropriate" at the scene (or shortly thereafter) followed by Lieutenant Barbie Fife beating a quick path to the news media to try and convict him before charges are even filed.
What do you think about that?
So Southlake dads beware because, regardless of how remote, the risk is real. Eventually it will happen.
College kids: beware taking a picture of that cute person in a bar, or (heaven forbid) that sexy swimsuit you see on the beach at Padre Island during Spring Break.
MTV photographers: watch out covering those beach parties on South Texas beaches!
Otherwise you may wind up in jail, before you know it, accused of a thought crime.
This law badly needs to be changed before it's further abused.
DEVELOPING: We have an email in to Southlake Mayor Andy Wamgsganss. We'll let you know what he says.
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