Michael Galindo has a hobby taking pictures of storms as a volunteer for the National Weather Service’s Skywarn program. On September 13 he took a few pictures of a brewing storm which, unknown to him, happened to be near the Lyondell Refinery outside Houston. And I wouldn’t be mentioning this if it hadn’t taken an ugly turn:
A man who snapped photos of a brewing storm last month received a visit Friday from an FBI Agent, inquiring why he would want to take such photos.
Michael Galindo explained that he was simply volunteering for the National Weather Service.
And FBI Agent David Pileggi seemed to be satisfied with that response.
But Galindo was left wondering whether he now has a permanent FBI file.
“He told me, ‘you’re not a threat and you are doing a public service but just be careful next time,'” Galindo said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
With all due respect to Agent Pileggi — who seems to have handled this in a reasonable and proportionate matter — Michael Galindo was just a guy taking some pictures in a public place. That’s his right. You are the the one who got sent on a fool’s errand to harass an American citizen by demanding an explanation for something that he shouldn’t have to explain to anyone.
Next time, maybe you should be more careful.
With all due respect to Mark Draughn, a privately-owned industrial complex is NOT a “public place”. Many people complained about the government’s inability to connect the dots with the events leading up to 9/11 yet here we have would could easily be seen as suspicious activity being investigated and some folks are crying foul. Mr. Galindo wasn’t flown to a foreign country and water boarded or sent to Gitmo. His house wasn’t seized and he wasn’t put on the no-fly list. He was questioned about his activities near the refinery and the FBI said “have a nice day”.
Police and private security have a job to do protecting sensitive installations and the people that work and live nearby there. Yes, there are some over-the-top cases out there and cases of downright police abuse but in this case the police and refinery security did their jobs.
If you are a volunteer weather spotter you should be aware that your activities (parking and watching things) no matter how benign or beneficial to the community may raise concerns with the public and law enforcement. If you’re parked in front of my house for an hour “watching spotted owls” I can guarantee you that you’ve be visited by the local police. Crime prevention starts with an alert citizenry,
Mark Draughn says
Couple things: The industrial complex may have been privately owned, but the photographer was in a public area where he had every right to be. Also, the FBI agent didn’t say “have a nice day,” he said “be more careful.” The latter implies that Galindo was at fault, which he was not. The only way he could comply with the FBI agent’s suggestion that he “be more careful” would be if he refrained from taking pictures which, in fact, he has every right to take.
And if I were interested in watching spotted owls, and did so in front of your house, and you called the cops, you and the cops would be wasting your time. As you say, such an excess of vigilance may be the price of reduced crime, but don’t blame me for the consequences of your tradeoffs.
“Be more careful” is FBI-agent-speak for “don’t do things that annoy me” which is not the legal standard.