HEMET — A local news photographer and videographer was arrested Sunday, July 24, while filming the scene of a three-vehicle car crash that involved an on-duty, Hemet police officer. He was arrested for obstructing a peace officer when he was slow to move his filming to a different area, as he was ordered by an officer to do.
The man who was arrested, John Strangis, a 36-year-old, Hemet resident, is a freelance news photographer whose video footage and photographs have been used by both television and print media news organizations throughout Riverside, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.
His footage has been aired by stations and used by newspapers such as CBS2, NBC4, KTLA5, ABC7, KCAL9, FOX11, Telemundo, Valley News, Press Enterprise and Valley Chronicle as well as Riverside County News Source and others.
He was cited and released several hours after his arrest.
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The crash – that is believed to have been the result of street racing – and Strangis’ subsequent arrest, happened about 10 p.m., in the 3000 block of W. Stetson Avenue at the intersection of Kirby Street, in Hemet.
The accident reportedly involved at least one vehicle that was believed to have been street racing at the time of the collision. It was not immediately known if an SUV involved in the wreck had also been involved in the alleged street racing or if the second speeding vehicle, described by witnesses as possibly an Infiniti, fled the scene after the wreck.
Although several witnesses at the scene described that the officer involved in the wreck had possibly been trying to conduct a traffic stop on the racing vehicles, citing the ongoing investigation, neither CHP nor Hemet PD officials have confirmed that racing was the cause of the crash or if the officer was attempting to stop the speeding vehicles.
Photographer arrested while filming news footage
later used by more than half-dozen local news stations
The day after his arrest, Strangis said he responded to the scene of the crash to film footage to be sold to and used by local news organizations. He was arrested for obstructing a peace officer when he allegedly refused to follow an officer’s lawful order to move to a different area to film.
Shortly after he began filming, as he shot footage of firefighters performing a cut and rescue operation on one of the drivers who was trapped inside the mangled wreckage of his car, he was asked several times and then ordered by at least two City of Hemet police officials to move to a different location, further away from the crime scene.
Although at that time, a crime scene had not yet been established and no tape, markers, or other indicators had been put up to designate the area a crime scene yet, while Strangis questioned the officer about being asked to move, a police official can be seen walking across the camera view with crime scene tape in his hand. When Strangis balked at repeated requests and then orders to move to the other location, he was handcuffed and arrested.
Video and audio footage that the photographer was filming when he was arrested is still being reviewed, but captured at least a portion of the incident and Strangis’ arrest.
During the recording, the officer who made the arrest and has been named but has not been officially identified, is heard telling Strangis to move his filming equipment to another location. The officer can later be heard explaining to Strangis in a polite but firm manner he was arrested for obstructing the on-scene officers’ investigation by not moving to a different filming location when he was asked to do so.
Strangis later noted that other media personnel, including photographers and members of local community reporting groups, were allowed up close and unfettered access to the scene of the wreck.
Footage of the accident scene that Strangis had begun filming before his arrest was finished by one of his co-workers and was later used by several local media organizations who covered the officer-involved traffic accident during their late night and following morning news broadcasts.
Strangis said that although the officer remained professional and polite during the incident, he didn’t believe the arrest was warranted or justified and said he has had previous, reported issues with the same official.
“I was told I was let go to avoid any ‘conflicts of interest.'”
Until just weeks ago, Strangis was a volunteer for Hemet PD – the same agency that arrested him during last night’s crash investigation. He volunteered from October 2015 until earlier this month.
“I was let go as a Hemet Police volunteer after filing a complaint about a similar incident with (the same officer) while filming at another accident scene,” Strangis explained. “After I filed the complaint I was let go as a police volunteer the very next day.”
“I was told I was let go to avoid any ‘conflicts of interest’ related to being a volunteer police officer and filming crime scenes and accidents involving the same department I volunteered for.”
“Now, I get arrested by the same officer I filed the complaint against? I’m really afraid of retaliation after this,” said Strangis.
The photographer, who said he has “worked hard” to live a crime free life and to stay on the “right side of the law” said in addition to being handcuffed and arrested, he was “thrown in a cell with a drunk bum, in spite of plenty of other, empty cells.”
As a former police volunteer, Strangis said he felt he should have been placed in a different cell for his own protection, against being assaulted or otherwise injured by someone who recognized him as a former police department volunteer.
“I didn’t expect preferential treatment, but I also didn’t expect my health or safety to be jeopardized, especially over something like that,” said Strangis.
After spending nearly four hours in Hemet Jail, Strangis was cited and released from the jail for suspicion of obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor.
California’s “resisting arrest/obstructing a peace officer” law prohibits individuals from willfully resisting, delaying, or otherwise obstructing a law enforcement officer or emergency medical technician while he/she is performing (or attempting to perform) his/her duties.
If convicted, Strangis could face up to one year in a county jail and/or a maximum one thousand dollar fine.
“I didn’t run to where he wanted me,
but asserting my rights…is not obstructing.”
After his arrest, Strangis, who admitted that although he didn’t immediately move when he was first asked to explained, “I was standing there, looking around to see where (the officer) wanted me to go. No, I didn’t run to where he wanted me, but asserting my rights to film as a credentialed and known photographer/videographer is not obstructing.”
Strangis pointed out that under §409.5(d) of the California Penal Code allows the media unrestricted access to emergency scenes and that law enforcement officials can only designate the area as a crime scene if the incident results or is likely to result in a criminal investigation and the presence of the media would jeopardize the investigation.
Strangis said at one point while still filming, he turned his back to the officer to look towards where the official wanted him to go when “(the officer) came up and grabbed my tripod and camera from me. It was totally unexpected.”
“Plus, knowing I had been a police volunteer, I get put in a cell with someone who was intoxicated and could have been a potential threat to me…I just don’t understand,” said Strangis, who said more than anything he does not want something like an arrest or a criminal conviction to hurt or hinder his future career prospects.
Strangis said he contacted Dave Brown, Hemet PD’s Chief of Police the day after his arrest to discuss the incident, but had not heard back from him yet. “I have nothing but respect for Hemet PD and its officers,” Strangis explained. “Chief Brown and other officers I worked with always said they supported me, I just don’t know if they respect me.”
Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown later confirmed Strangis was arrested for obstructing a police officer; however, he declined to discuss the incident further.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as additional facts become available.