I was filming at a County Social Service office. The Social Service Administrator told me to leave because I was filming and called the Sheriff. The Sheriff arrested me for trespassing.

  • If someone asks you to leave their property you have to leave. – Putvi Nov 25 '19 at 18:29
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    Could you please re-write this answer to make it clear what question you are asking? As written, you have only told us that you went to a government office to film and were arrested. I can think of lots of questions raised by your story, but from what you've written, I have no idea which of those questions you want answered. – Just a guy Nov 25 '19 at 19:49
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    Whether you were trespassing depends on many factors. If you are considering contesting charges arising from the arrest you should get a lawyer. – phoog Nov 26 '19 at 20:05

Generally, if someone asks you to leave their property you have to leave*. Just because a place is owned by the public, doesn't mean anyone can go there any time they wish. Military bases, firehouses, and jails are owned by the public, but many of these have limited access to the public.

It may be open to the general public, but that does not mean restrictions cannot be put into place, either on times, or activities, or individuals. For example, public parks often have time and activity restrictions; schools have the power to restrict individuals from their premises, either specifically or by general category.

As a general point of law, the owner of any property, or their agent, can order anyone without the right to stay (e.g. not a co-owner or tenant), and that person must depart, otherwise that person is tresspassing.

The Social Service Administrator is almost certainly an agent of the controlling entity that owns the property. Thus their demand that you leave the premises is enforceable, unless you have a non-revokable right to be in that space.

*As user Justaguy points out there are some exceptions. Most notably, police can some times enter a property uninvited or against the owner's wishes (such as under emergency circumstances or with a warrant).

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  • @shanur It is not true that you have to leave if the property owner asks you to leave. There are plenty of exceptions. These most obvious is police serving warrants, or police fighting fires. There is also an exception for people who have easements (meter readers, for example). Under US and CA law, some protesters have a right to be on some private property. And so on... – Just a guy Nov 26 '19 at 7:41
  • @Justaguy: Police don't fight fires :). But some good points about exceptions. Could you cite a source on protesters? I live in CA and have never head about that (you could protest on a public street that you could normally be in, but that's more of police not being allowed to order you to leave due to protesting; if you were protesting in a mandatory fire evacuation zone, I believe you could still be arrested for breaking the evacuation order). – sharur Nov 26 '19 at 16:46
  • Another general exception is that government, when acting as a place of business, has the same rights to set the rules as a private business. Government has much more control on restrictions to employee speech (when on duty) than it does with the general public, especially executive employees, who are the bulk of the work force (typically political appointed officials and elected leaders are exempt, though they are at will employees and much easier to fire). – hszmv Nov 26 '19 at 17:16
  • @sharur § 602 (o) of the CA Penal Code covers what we usually think of as trespass: “Refusing...to leave land, real property, or structures belonging to… another and not open to the general public…” § 602 (o) goes on to say, "However, this subdivision does not apply to persons engaged in lawful labor union activities which are permitted to be carried out on the property by the Alatorre-Zenovich-Dunlap-Berman Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 or by the federal National Labor Relations Act." codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-602.html – Just a guy Nov 26 '19 at 17:21
  • @sharur The CA Supreme Court upheld related CA laws allowing protests on private property recently in Ralphs Grocery v. UFCW Local 8, 290 P.3d 1116, (2010). Interestingly, SCOTUS denied cert in 2013. scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/ralphs-grocery-v-ufcw-local-8-34170 – Just a guy Nov 26 '19 at 17:23

As discussed, just because the government owns a building, it does not make it public for the purposes of First Amendment rules automatically. Generally, the Government, when acting as an employer and a place of economic business, has the same rights as those of private employers and places of business, including the rules of conduct for customers while on property as well as employees (if you get a check from Uncle Sam, there are things you cannot say while doing that work... and those rules are different between agencies of the government (typically political appointees are allowed to express more political speech than your career civil servant, but even then, it's not as a non-government citizen... and the appointee is much easier to fire at will than the civil servant (almost always for cause even in states with at will employment laws. It's also compliant with for cause state laws for a specific state... though Feds tend to be more strict on what is a fire able offense than the state laws.).

Because Social Security is acting as a buisness, you do not have a right to film them in their own facitlity like you would when recording a cop dealing with the public on the street. This means that two party consent is in play (I believe California is a Two Party Consent state) and the office worker explicitly told you they didn't consent.

And while it's not a concern to Social Security's services, there's another reason most federal places of business don't allow recording on the premises. Aside from D.C., often times Federal office buildings house regional branches of multiple federal offices in the same building. It's not uncommon to find the local FBI building sharing a few floors with the DEA or the IRS having a Secret Service annex. I've actually seen a EPA field office on an Army base because that's where they could put it.

The Alfred P. Murrah Building (aka the one that was targeted by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing) contained offices for Social Security, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Secret Service, Department of Veterans Affairs vocational rehabilitation counseling center, the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (A.T.F.), as well as military recruitment offices (I know there was a Marine recruitment office, but I can't tell if other branches had offices there) and a daycare center for children of employees of these agencies.

There's some good reasons why the Government does not allow cameras in buildings like this. Of the 6 federal agencies in the building, three have employees who might be chekcing in from undercover investigations at any given moment, another is recruiting for the military, and may have people coming in who will be given access to covert operations, and a third is dealing with people who have come back from war with some serious problems both physical and mental. All of them have valid reasons to not want some person coming off the streets And many of those concerns are very very valid concerns about their safety and the safety of people important to them (from their families, co-works, up to the President of the United States (Secret Service doesn't have the luxury of choosing to like the guy or not) if they are specifically identified in a federal law enforcement office.

The VA, Housing, and Social Security are all dealing with people who really would prefer not to be on some random person's film out of dignity. The people in the VA are in pain and maybe don't want people gawking at them, and the other two agency frequently deal with people who may not want the social stigma that can be associated with needing those benefits.

And then we get to the daycare, which I shouldn't have to tell you, would have problems with someone with a camera wandering around enough with out realizing that the kids playing there are all young children of the employees with the above concerns. And less you think I'm trying to scare you by threatening the children, I again remind you, I'm discussing a building that was blown up by a man with a vendetta against the federal government driven by a botched law enforcement raid that ended up killing American Children and specifically targeted the building because ATF and DEA, though killing people who protect the president and recruits and injured veterans of the military were added bonuses... and a parking spot right by the day care center was icing on the cake (his words, not mine. He viewed the daycare as a valid target specifically because of the death of the children during the Waco Siege). And he knew this because he could enter and exit the building freely and did some scouting. He didn't bomb it just because he had a problem with the government... he had specific problems with the government and wanted to send a message... and they certainly received it.

There's a very very valid reason why they don't want you coming in with a camera. Whatever you think you were doing with it there, and whatever point you think you wanted to prove... I can assure you, it's not worth the risk you brought into the lives of people you who do good work, you may even say are heroes, who you would never intend to put in harms way.

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  • The question concerns a county social services office, not a federal social security office. The argument about "acting as a place of economic business" strikes me as ill founded: government offices that exist to provide government services are certainly different from a public place, but they are not equivalent to a private place of business such as a store or gym. Do you have any sources to support that claim? – phoog Nov 27 '19 at 14:24
  • @Phoog: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…, and Hatch Ac and similar state laws that restrict government employees in how they may participate in Partisan political campaign activities. – hszmv Dec 2 '19 at 13:33
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    Those examples of the government's ability to restrict its employees' speech do not support the assertion. Neither restriction is grounded in the government's "acting as a place of economic business." – phoog Dec 2 '19 at 14:02
  • @phoog: Government has the right to censor speech when the government is the speaker. Generally this extends censorship rights to the government when it's operating as an employer because all government employees are making "Government Speech" when performing their duties. Off the clock these restrictions do not apply, of course, though "off the clock" may vary depending on government agency (military for example are considered to be on 24/7 operations, though duty hours are usually not limited). – hszmv Dec 2 '19 at 14:29
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    The government exerting control over its own speech is not censorship. Of course the government may direct its employees to say anything or refrain from saying anything in an official capacity. But that has nothing to do with regulating public access to a government office that exists for the purpose of receiving members of the public who seek government services. – phoog Dec 2 '19 at 15:11

Some of the answers posted here are insanely off-base. Restrictions on the speech of government employees have nothing to do with the public's right to engage in speech. Nor is a county, state or federal facility to be treated as a private business simply because it operates in a business-like fashion. Otherwise, the government could "operate" any of its facilities in such a fashion and prevent any filming, speech and so forth. In terms of ownership, the PEOPLE own these facilities because they pay for them. Hence the right to use them as a member of the public.

And this gets to the crux of the matter. Under what circumstances can a member of the public be excluded from a public facility? What, if any, restrictions can be imposed on behavior while on premises, and for what rationale? Issues such as "trespass" are connected to (1) the ability of a public office to function in an unimpeded fashion and (2) the requirement that someone entering the office space actually do so for purposes intended. Filmmakers who get in the way, instigate confrontations, or dispute the operations of the office are an easier category to handle. They interfere with operations and, therefore, a legitimate ground to exclude them exists. On the other hand, simply standing against the wall and filming activity in a public building may not raise any of these concerns. Thus, another ground for "trespass" must exist. Simply because an office manager doesn't like your behavior is probably not enough. While the government exercises "control" over a space, they don't own it in the same way a private entity does. So you have greater rights. Indeed, it can be argued that the government has a right of control over all spaces not privately owned. A town center or public easement is still managed by public sector people (lawns mowed, sidewalks maintained, electrical updated, and so forth). So, following the "manager can kick you out" theory, a public official could kick you out of a town center because they don't like what you're doing.

Well, too damn bad for them. The point of a free society is to be able to exercise your rights. Again, in an office setting, a confined space where other members of the public are trying to conduct their own business, the issues of interference/impeding operations are different from a town center. But, if you simply stand there and film (without more), I'm not sure there is any legitimate basis to require the person to leave.

At some point, some of these issues will be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court. That's why we have a court system in the first place.

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