Officer, SFPD in Legal Battle Over Nude Photography

Gared Hansen and his Wife, Alena Koval, with their artwork.

Gared Hansen and his Wife, Alena Koval, with their artwork.

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Gared Hansen, 36, a San Francisco police officer for seven years, has been taking heat for his hobby, erotic photography, for almost as long as he has worked at Mission station.

Hansen has received two multiday suspensions for his hobby, once in 2009 and again in January of this year. After the last suspension, Hansen sought legal recourse.

On Aug. 9, Hansen filed suit in federal court in Oakland, charging the department with violating his First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

Hansen’s problems began in 2009 after word got around the department about his hobby, and although he says his friends at work did not mind, someone within the department did. An anonymous letter was sent to Internal Affairs, after which an investigation began and Hansen was admonished for his off-duty hobby.

“During the first investigation, I think whoever was writing it realized it was a First Amendment issue, and so … tried to say that my photography … brought discredit upon the department,” Hansen said.

The Police Officers Association, which Hansen contacted during the investigation, advised him of his rights and told him that because the department was unable to substantiate its charge after disciplining him, he was free to continue his photography.

In March of 2010, Hansen was photographing two models in an abandoned building in Contra Costa County. Two deputies with the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department had responded to a call about teenagers causing a disturbance on the property. After dealing with the teens, the deputies checked the property and found Hansen and the models.

Hansen, who had his firearm with him, was required to immediately identify himself as a police officer. A sergeant then arrived on scene and called the San Francisco Police Department to confirm Hansen’s employment.

Hansen was cited but the ticket was later thrown out and he did not have to go to court. The SFPD, however, started a second investigation, concluding that Hansen’s photography brings “discredit” to the department, Hansen said.

In a separate filing, attorneys for the City of San Francisco replied to Hansen’s complaint, stating that “he cannot establish Defendant violated his constitutional rights” or that there was an “alleged violation” of his rights due to “a custom, policy, or practice.”

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the matter.

A police officer by day and a photographer in his time off, Hansen admits he is by no means a professional artist. Although he is passionate about his photography, he does not want to be anything other than a cop.

Hansen alleges that the department is on a “witch-hunt.” After his last suspension, he took down the website showcasing his photography. His wife, Alena Koval, 26, started her own site featuring his pictures after acquiring the copyrights to her husband’s photos.

“I gave her all my pictures and I just washed my hands of the whole thing because I was frustrated,” he said.

The internal affairs investigation angered Koval. “Basically, they tried to make him some sort of evil, immoral person that, you know, has models over for sex or bad purposes.”

Hansen’s problems with the department have continued even though his wife has taken over his photos.

“They threatened me in the last interview that I could be fired if she didn’t stop,” Hansen said.

6 Comments

  1. I am assuming that the photographs in question are “legal” as the approach of SFPD was related to their “bringing discredit”. That said, I am wondering if the department’s focus would be more useful to the community if it enabled the folks at Mission Station control or eradicate the real threats to our community. Clearly someone in the department has too much time on their hands.

  2. Christophe

    I am very pleased to hear that corruption and abusive practices have been completely eliminated from the SFPD, so that internal affairs now has time on their hands to go after cops who take photographs.

  3. John

    So the city of SF ignores nude men roaming the Castro but has a moral issue with nude photography?

  4. Andy

    Doesn’t SFPD have presence at the Folsom Street Fair? (I remember police officers sitting a dunking booth to raise funds for charity, which I thought was fun/brilliant.) So Hansen’s photos are somehow more “discrediting” that what’s happening at the Fair? SFPD is discredited when its members misuse their power. I say leave Hansen be.

    But beyond my personal reaction, if SFPD (and the City Attorney) is wrong, if a Hansen’s first amendment rights are being violated, then those threatening Hansen’s job are leaving SF taxpayers open to a lawsuit. Most of SFPD doesn’t live in SF, so they may not care, but I’m not thrilled with the idea of my tax money settling a suit rooted in someone’s prudish views.

  5. SafeStreets

    What a stupid waste of SFPD resources and energy! Whoever is bringing these lawsuits should be fired for incompetence and abuse of position, leave Hansen alone. We need to focus on CRIME and SHOOTINGS and MUGGINGS, not harmless photographs! This aint the 1950′s folks!

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