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Florida zoo bans man who photographed child without permission

Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2017 @ 7:42 AM
By: Conner Mitchell, Palm Beach Post

Florida's Palm Beach Zoo on Tuesday banned a man from its grounds following a complaint that he was photographing another zoo patron’s child without permission.

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West Palm Beach police questioned but neither arrested nor warned the photographer, a 48-year-old Broward County man who told police he had no malicious intent in taking the child’s photo.

“He stated that he was simply capturing video of a joyful moment” between the man and his child, according to a city police incident report. Police noted in their report that the photographer — who The Post is not identifying because he is not facing criminal charges — had no history of either lewd or sexual incidents.

Zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said managers met Tuesday morning “and after further review of the information we have decided the patron is not allowed to return to the zoo.”

The zoo also planned to meet with area parent groups to discuss the issue, Carter said.

A civil liberties lawyer said Tuesday that the parent may have a right to feel suspicious about a stranger taking photos of his child, but he had no legal complaint against the photographer.

The incident appears to be isolated and likely doesn’t constitute stalking or harassment, said James Green, a West Palm Beach-based lawyer who works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. It would have to be a provable, repeated behavior to violate the law.

“Stalking requires a willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing or cyberstalking of another person,” he said. “Harass means to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes significant emotional distress to that person.”

Cherie Benjoseph, co-founder of the South Florida KidSafe Foundation, said that despite the photographer not being charged with a crime, the man did the right thing in calling the police. She said similar incidents have been reported at public beaches where unsuspecting parents bathe their kids in the public showers and an observant family member notices someone taking pictures or video.

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“Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what’s going on in the area where you’re playing with your child,” Benjoseph said. “If you see something, say something. … We as parents and guardians of the children we care for need to be educated to be the first line of defense in our children’s safety.”

According to the National Recreation and Park Association, several prominent cities have begun restricting adult entrance to children’s play areas unless they are accompanied by a child. Hollywood put the policy in place in 2015 and claimed the restriction would “put a little dent into getting rid of the undesirables in the park.”

Green said personal privacy protections are strongest in a person’s home and are lessened in public places such as a zoo.

The incident could theoretically raise privacy issues if video was taken and someone’s voice was captured, Green said, but he cautioned against unreasonable expectations of privacy in open, public places.

“Video recording that includes audio capture could violate the Florida Security of Communications statute if the person whose voice was captured had a reasonable expectation of privacy,” he said. “(But) just because I don’t like it or I feel that my communication should not be recorded does not make it so. My expectation of privacy has to be objectively reasonable.”