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.