Caught on Camera: University of Oregon Law Professor Snatches Student’s Camera

By on March 15, 2013

UPDATE, 4:40 P.M.Angus Johnston, writing for the Student Activism blog, alerts us that Olmsted has been fired. The Electronic Intifada site reports that Olmsted faces criminal charges as well. 

Here’s a Friday dose of unlearning liberty for you: the blog Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC) documents an unsettling incident involving a professor who did not care to be videotaped by students with whom he was arguing at a campus protest:

A University of Oregon law professor was in a heated argument with a group of students protesting against Israeli and American immigration policies when he snatched a cell phone camera from a woman, placing it in his back pocket where it remained recording for several minutes.

PINAC identifies that law professor as James Olmsted.

Olmsted … walked up to the student and asked the tired question of "what are you going to do with it?"

She said she would do whatever she wanted with it. It is her video, after all.

He then snatched the phone and placed it in his back pocket.

The students seemed too shocked to respond. One of them said, "this is public property, what are you doing?"

Olmsted responded by saying, "this is my public property, too."


Here’s the video of the encounter:

Videos of the encounter from differing perspectivesincluding of the phone confiscated by the faculty memberare posted at PINAC.

From a law professor, especially, this is a disappointing spectacle to behold. If the tables had been turned here, and it had been Olmsted videotaping the argument and not the student, do you think he would have obliged if they had told him not to record them? How would he have acted if they had taken his phone in the manner he took theirs, in what amounts to robbing someone of his or her private property? I have difficulty imagining that the professor wouldn’t have suspected his rights were being violated and complained as such.

Hopefully this incident will stand as a teachable moment for the professor, and an effective refresher on students’ basic rights on campus. It’s also an unfortunate reminder that sometimes those who are supposed to be the stewards of student rights are exactly the people that these rights need protection from.