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Belleville police take cell phone from crime scene bystander

3:15 AM, Jun 15, 2012   |    comments
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Photo taken by Vollmer

Belleville, Ill (KSDK) - Right after a shooting in Belleville this week, a former NewsChannel 5 photojournalist called our Information Center and said she was on the scene and was going to email us a photo.

She did, but soon after police confiscated her phone. So, can police actually seize your cell phone at a crime scene?

Beth Vollmer was standing right across the street from the crime scene. She says she lifted her phone, snapped a picture and was confronted by an officer.

The photo she took is a scene photo showing an apartment complex, some officers and crime scene tape.

Vollmer says she was shocked when a Belleville police officer approached her and asked for her cell phone.

"I said why are you taking my phone and he said, 'Well it's evidence now,'" remembers Vollmer.

She told the officer that she could just delete the picture, but she explains that that wasn't good enough for the officer. So, she reluctantly handed it over.

"In this instance you have police performing a public duty, and someone is able to record that visually through a photograph without any fear of prosecution," says ACLU of Illinois' Ed Yohnka.

He says Vollmer did nothing wrong and she had a constitutional right to take this picture. He says even if police believe there's evidence of a crime they still need a warrant or your consent to seize it.

Yohnka also says Vollmer wasn't breaking any other state laws.

"You can take a picture in public of anyone in Illinois and it is not a violation of any eavesdropping law, it's not an infringement of their privacy," says Yohnka.

Vollmer says her picture didn't contain evidence and was taken after the shooting happened. Eventually she did get her phone back, but she says living a day with no cell was frustrating.

"I do work and I do have a child and I want to be accessible to him and his caregivers at all times," says Vollmer. "I did feel like my rights had been violated."

This isn't a state law it's a constitutional thing, so all states are covered by this.

We spoke to Belleville Police and the Illinois State Police, both declined to discuss the matter.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the National Press Photographers Association sent NewsChannel 5 copies of letters they sent to Belleville Police Chief William Clay: 
Click here for a copy of a letter criticizing the police action 
Click here for a copy of a previous settlement similar to the Belleville incident

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