Meet the sheriff! My first arrest

dixonweb
Daniel Dixon, a disabled man, is arrested while working the Lake Ming boat drags. I would be arrested moments later for refusing to surrender my camera after photographing Dixon’s arrest.

The day after I shot the boat flip sequence, I was arrested on the job for the first time by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. It was June 14, 1981, I was 23 and it was my first-ever encounter with the KCSO. Boat drags at Lake Ming were a popular event that drew in the tens of thousands. A prior race months before resulted in a large portion of the crowd getting unruly, drunk and out of hand, and the sheriffs made lots of arrests. So the sheriffs were out in force for this boat race, and made a big deal about announcing a zero tolerance policy for any public drunkenness or unruly behavior. I was in the secured area – not open to the public – for workers near the control tower when I noticed three deputies approach a man who was walking in the same workers’ area and grab him. He immediately tried to pull away, and a struggle ensued. I started taking pictures. One of the deputies saw me and ordered me to stop taking pictures. I ignored her and continued shooting. She told me if I didn’t stop shooting, she was going to take the camera away. I told her to do what she though she had to do. In retrospect, I should have said nothing at all. After they cuffed the man, all three came after me. The female deputy, Jodi Marlett, was first, and ordered me to give her the camera. Instead, I shot a picture of her in my face. She grabbed the camera, and I wouldn’t let go. The male deputy, his name was Fred Skidmore, came up grabbed my thumb and said “Let go of the camera or I’ll break your fucking thumb.” I wouldn’t let it go, and he pulled my thumb back until the grip released. They cuffed me and put me in a patrol car. Mike Griffith saw what was happening and almost got arrested when he tried to intervene. Felix Adamo was watching, and shooting the whole thing, from a distance with a telephoto lens. If they had seen him, he would have been arrested, too. The third deputy was Cheryl Ruggles. It didn’t end there, however. The most disturbing part of the ordeal was yet to come. Marlett drove me to jail. When she pulled into the sheriff’s underground garage, she stopped the car. Without a word, she reached over and picked up my camera in the front seat. She reached for the film rewind knob and pulled it. She was trying to expose the film! The camera did not open. She began twisting and pulling various knobs trying to open the camera. Nothing. I had shot the pictures with an old, original Nikon F camera from the 1960s era. That camera did not open like most 35mm film cameras. To open that camera, you had to release a lever on the bottom of the camera, then slide the camera back completely off the camera. She was not able to figure it out, gave up and that’s how the film survived. I was released from jail about 2 hours later. My managing editor, W.J. McCance came and got me, and he made quite a show of making sure the KCSO knew that arresting one of his people would not be tolerated. I was charged with interfering with an officer in the course of his duty, which in the journalism world we call “contempt of cop,” the standard charge they use when they have no real crime to charge you with. Two days later, Kern County District Attorney Al Leddy dropped the charges, declaring that “being an aggressive photographer is not a crime.” The Californian demanded a public apology for the arrest, and about a week later, Sheriff Al Loustalot issued what is said to have been the only public apology ever issued by the department for an arrest.
As for the man who was arrested, his name was Daniel Dixon. He was not drunk. He was a worker at the event. Years earlier, he had suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident that left him walking with a gait and slightly impaired. The cops just assumed he was drunk. Why they would go after an official working the race in an employee area is a question that was never answered. Dixon sued the KCSO for false arrest and won. He settled for five figures, though I don’t know what the amount was. My picture survived and was published in The Californian and moved on the AP wire. My arrest received more media exposure than Dixon’s did, and I wish that was not the case. I would go on to have a rather stormy and confrontational relationship with the KCSO for most of the next three decades. The Lake Ming arrest did not foster any sort of understanding of the difficulties of both of our jobs. Instead, it did just the opposite, and the conflicts and confrontations never abated.

Deputy sheriff Jodi Marlett demands that I give her my camera. I declined.
Deputy sheriff Jodi Marlett demands that I give her my camera. I declined.
This is me being arrested on June 14, 1981, after photographing the arrest of Daniel Dixon at the Lake Ming boat drags. Dixon was a disabled race worker who they mistook for being drunk. This was the first of two on-the-job arrests in my career. Felix Adamo took the picture, and he would have been arrested, too, if they had seen him.
This is me being arrested on June 14, 1981, after photographing the arrest of Daniel Dixon at the Lake Ming boat drags. Dixon was a disabled race worker who they mistook for being drunk. This was the first of two on-the-job arrests in my career. Felix Adamo took the picture, and he would have been arrested, too, if they had seen him.
Nikon
This is the Nikon F film camera I used to photograph Daniel Dixon’s false arrest. In her attempt to destroy the images of the arrest, Deputy Marlett was not able to figure out that this older camera opened by unlocking a lever on the bottom of the camera and sliding the back of the camera off. The design of the camera literally saved the film.
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One thought on “Meet the sheriff! My first arrest

  1. I know Fred Skidmore and that sounds exactly like something he would have done back in the day. Sounds like the whole scene was one big cluster.

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