I’ll remember the date for the rest of my life: August 18th, 2016. My father died. My father who was the consummate journalist. The man who taught me the meaning of the Constitution. The man who wrote a book to me as a child, to help guide me in my decision on my American Citizenship when I would turn 18 (we were living in Canada and dual citizenship wasn’t allowed back in 1968).
It was a day and a year after his death that I decided to take a Saturday off from work, politics, family, friends- to just be by myself and remember Dad. I’d not had time to really grieve, or put things in perspective due to life going into overdrive the previous 365 days. I went over to the office, picked up about $5000 worth of pro-camera gear and set out to walk downtown and take some photos. I started with photography when my grandfather gave me a Topcon 35mm camera at age 12. By 15, I’d built a darkroom in the basement, and had graduated to an Olympus OM-1 (now in the loving hands of my friend, Larry C. Price, Olympus visionary, and 2x Pulitzer Prize winner for Photojournalism). I was the photo editor of my high school yearbook my junior year. There are a bunch of people who used to call me “Mr. Photographer.”
I’d not been to the new Downtown Main Library yet, and it was my first stop. As someone who grew up with an uncle and 2 cousins who are architects- and in a home that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, architecture had always been another part of the conversations with my father. Literally, every trip we made, architecture was a part of the exploration, coupled with history and politics.
As I entered the library, with its tall three story grand stairway entrance, the first thing you do is look up, to the skylights and the Terry Welker mobile of crystal trapezoids. Then as I looked to my right- I saw a large empty space, a big lobby, with a little table with 2 guards chatting. Snap.
I wandered over to the Eichelberger auditorium- and was taking pictures then, when a young girl was playing on the stage. Her mother asked if she was ruining my photo- and of course, I said no. She was adorable. Snap, Snap, Snap, Snap, Snap. Then to the Children’s section, where I talked to my friend and neighbor Tonya Cross who was working. I saw kids on play stations and x-boxes, I saw an art space that was locked. Kids clambering over a little bridge in a bubble- which made me wonder who fit through that to clean it?
On the second floor, I saw the “green screen room.” There were two kids in their huddled over the computer, I knocked and went in. I looked at all the equipment, and asked what they were working on. They were using Garage Band- but didn’t know it. The room was really too small to use the green screen effectively. The equipment was all pro-sumer grade- and nice. I saw people in small group huddle spaces with white boards and pin boards. I saw more guards. I made my way to the third floor, and found my way out to the roof deck overlooking third street. More pix. Admired the big conference rooms. Saw an eccentric guy who reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut sitting there- but didn’t see a good shot with him in it. Took a shot of the lobby from the top of the stairs, a shot of the Welker glass. Sat down, changed lenses, and then swiveled around and took a photo of a patron actually reading a book. She’d been the only one reading in our new library. It has seemed like reading is no longer what we do in libraries.
She was pristinely still. No headphones, no one else in the shot, because, frankly, there weren’t many people there. It was a beautiful day out. And, I have to say, the views from the third floor over Cooper Park are very beautiful, and I’d planned to go sit and read in the corner of the 2nd floor area after taking a few more shots. I had a book tucked away in my photo bag. I too, like to read. Snap.
I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos. Many of people in public places. And, as most of you know, I know a little bit about the First Amendment. What happened next took me by surprise. This oversized, balding, red-headed rent-a-cop started to question me immediately if I had her permission to take her photo. I responded calmly- “this is a public place, a public space. There are no guarantees of privacy, and it’s perfectly legal to take pictures.” What he and I said next- I don’t really recall- other than I said “leave me alone” and I started to walk over to the space where the roof was leaking. One of the rules when taking “street photos” is not to call attention to yourself- or make a commotion. The guard was doing his best to do that.
I came back around, still with the long lens on the camera- to try to take a photo of the Welker sculpture. As I’m focusing on the one crystal catching the light, I feel the presence of someone entering my personal space. Meet, Sgt. Donovan, who first begins by asking me who I’m with. Which is none of his business, as if being affiliated with the library or the news media changes the law.
Then, after I tell him it’s none of his business and to leave me alone, he starts reading me the riot act about taking photos of people in a public place. I’m thinking to myself, of all the people to pick on- he’s screwing with one of a very few people who’s won a first amendment case in Dayton. I realize this isn’t going away. He has a second guard behind him, and Big Bald Red Head is standing behind me. I take out my iphone and start recording video. You see Big Red who started this shitshow- striking a pose as we round the corner to go to the stairs.
He’s telling me it’s against the law to take photos, citing Ohio Revised Code. You can watch the rest. Warning, I use the word Fuck. He suggests I’m a sexual predator, I call him a Nazi, after he starts telling me the sidewalk is part of the library too. Am I proud of how I treated this douche bag? Nope. I lowered myself. He’s calling on his radio for police- he’s threatening me with arrest. All I wanted to do was spend a day taking photos and thinking about Dad.
Taking photos in public is not a crime. This has been tested over and over in the courts.
At the end, he bans me from the Library for 30 days.
I call Tim Kambitsch, the library director. I have his cell. I used to consider him a friend. I have a crush on his sister, who I met ages ago in a pilates class at the Y. I leave a message.
I head over to Riverscape. I’ve got an 8mm fisheye lens I want to play with. I want to try to chill out. I’m still pissed and upset from the library episode. I see Metroparks guards giving me the eye. I’m pretty sure my description was broadcast by Sgt Nazi.
On the way home, as I crossed the Oregon/South Park Pedestrian Bridge, Kambitsch called me back. I told him what happened, and asked him to remove the ban, retrain his guards, and for an apology. He told me he’d done his research and that I was in the wrong. I warned him then, that I knew what happened, I knew my rights and that we’d go to court. He said fine. Scratch a friend.
My attorney is a fellow Veteran. He’s also a public defender. He reads this blog. He takes the case. Sends them another letter, requesting the video. We also ask for information about the guards, their reports, etc. I could go into a ton of details, but know this- Dayton Metro Library spent $1.2M on guards like Big Red and Sgt. Nazi in 2017 from G4S Security out of Miami Florida. So much for buy local. They were up for bid in November- and now another firm has the contract for $1.1M. Probably hired the same losers- and they all had to sew new patches on their brown shirts.
After much back and fourth, Kambitsch and his attorney’s want a meeting with me and my attorney. We meet at the Library. Kambitsch starts with an apology. Apparently, the guard, Big Red had lied in his account of our interaction. They knew this because they saw watched the video. The one we requested over and over.
In typical Dayton fashion, this meeting is almost funny. Kambitsch has Adam Laugle from the Prosecutors office and another attorney. I hadn’t caught his name. Turns out, he’s the attorney for the Libraries insurance company- slick hair, expensive suit, nice tan. Insurance work is great if you can get it- get paid big bucks per hour- to decide if you give away someone else’s money. He’s also the husband of former Dayton Acting City Manager Maureen Pero. I say “Acting,” because that’s what she was when Mayor Mike Turner had me arrested at the Dayton City Commission meeting for wearing a black mask to protest their illegal secret meetings. She not only testified in the depositions, but, she hung around for the whole morning, sucking up to Turner who also testified. Small world.
So the only question was settlement. I made a few requests:
- Retrain the guards
- Legal Fees
- A public apology
- And a sizeable donation in my name to begin the “Dolly Parton Imagination Learning Library” for Dayton kids.
Note, no money to me. They ask what “sizeable donation means”- to which I respond, last time, the check was six figures, but, I’ll leave it up to you to decide. They did tell me Big Red had been sent packing, never to be a Dayton Metro Library rent-a-cop again.
Btw- all three reports were similar. I’m now, shorter, younger and…. well, they weren’t very good observers (or liars) to begin with.
Several communications go back and fourth. They admit their failings. They are willing to pay to retrain the guards. They are willing to pay legal fees. No public apology and no offer to fund a program that has proven to increase literacy in my name or at all.
I think the board ought to know what their director and bad legal advice is telling them. Remember, the insurance lawyer works for the insurance company- not the library. As to the guy from the Prosecutors office, let’s just say he has no say in anything.
I’d sent my videographer to the meeting immediately after my ejection to record their session, and now he was with me to record me telling them that they might want to consider a settlement and the reasons why. I speak a lot with three minute time limits. (Some would say I’m the reason for three minute time limits at the Dayton City Commission). I know three minutes, and I know the speaking rules, I’d filled out a request well in advance, I’d signed in with their form to speak- both of which have their rules. So when Ms. Pruneface asked me if I knew their rules, I immediately quipped back in full Esrati fashion, “Yes, I can read.” The expression on Kambitsch’s face is priceless. Needless to say, I was cut off at 2:30. Needless to say, I have a video, complete with a guy who talks for over 5 minutes- waving his arms around and shouting from the meeting the month before. The board doesn’t want to be educated, they don’t want to learn from past mistakes. This is arrogance. It’s what I hate most in people who are supposed to represent us- be it school board members, city commissioners, congressmen or library board members who were given $187M of our tax dollars to spend, and yet, don’t care to listen to a community voice who is trying to settle things fairly.
You watch the video.
Today, as promised, would come, we filed a mandamus complaint to force the library to release the video, claiming they are in violation of Ohio Open Records laws. It’s a first volley. We need to see what the evidence is, before we file the suit for the ejection. We need to see what they saw, which made them change their minds and sort of apologize. It would be available in discovery, but, if you are going to go to war, by all means, make sure you have all your plans in place up front. At least, that’s how the professionals do it.
The filing is clear. The privacy concerns the library is using to protect the video are unfounded.
From the filing:
48. Section l 49.432(A)(2) defines “library record” as “a record in any form that is maintained by a library and that contains any of the following types of information:
(a) Information that the library requires an individual to provide in order to be eligible to use library services or borrow materials;
(b) Information that identifies an individual as having requested or obtained specific materials or materials on a particular subject;
( c) Information that is provided by an individual to assist a library staff member to answer a specific question or provide information on a particular subject.”
49. “Patron information” means “personally identifiable information about an individual who has used any library service or brorrowed any library materials. R.C. 149.432(A)(3).
50. Because of the nature of video recordings, and the nature of library records and patron information, the recordings sought in the Requests cannot contain library records or patron information.
We’ll see what the courts decide.
Next suit- against the Dayton Public Schools to stop them from providing private tours as an excuse to have the “task force” meet in private to discuss the closure of schools.
Here are some supporting documents.
The letter from the libraries insurance company lawyer which admits the guards were wrong, the incident reports, and the Contract with G4S
Update 2020. In the end, the library lost every step of the way in their fight to not turn over the surveillance video. Esrati filed a civil suit in Federal Court on his own, and ended up settling with G4S for a sizeable sum plus legal costs. Read about it here: https://esrati.com/39446-says-you-can-take-photos-in-a-library-or-in-public/17816