Photographer arrested at mall after taking holiday photos

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An award-winning video journalist was arrested by Charleston Police Department officers Tuesday after he took pictures of Santa Claus and a choir at the Town Center Mall.

Scott Rensberger, 47, of Washington is charged with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest, according to criminal complaints filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

According to the complaint, Rensberger slapped the hand of Charleston police Cpl. R. C. Basford as the officer attempted to block Rensberger from taking a picture of him. Rensberger then “attempted to pull away” from the officer, Basford wrote in the complaint.

Rensberger, who was hired to take photos of government buildings as a subcontractor for the Internal Revenue Service, had just gotten back from taking photos of the Sidney L. Christie Federal Building in Huntington. He stopped at his hotel room, then went to the Charleston Town Center Mall to eat dinner and do some Christmas shopping at about 5 p.m.

“I took some pictures of the choir singing and I took some pictures of the Santa snow scene,” he said. “I take my camera with me almost anywhere.”

Rensberger is a freelance videographer and in 1991 won an Investigative Reporters and Editors award and was named National Press Photographers Association Photographer of the Year. He said he takes photos of all the places he visits and sends them to his girlfriend in D.C.

He went into a store to shop for a scarf for his girlfriend when two men stopped him and told him he had taken a photo of one of their children with Santa Claus.

“I didn’t even realize there were kids in the shot. It was a wide shot,” he said.

Rensberger said he apologized and pulled out his camera and erased the photographs of Santa Claus and the children. He said he scrolled through the photos so the men would know there were no more photos of the child on the camera.

“I did think it was weird and it did shock me a little,” Rensberger said. “I understood, too. I didn’t want to upset the guy. I think it’s a sad comment on the world we live in. … It’s never happened to me before.”

When he was finished in the store he walked by “Santa’s Cabin” again, talking to his girlfriend on the phone about what had just happened.

He saw one of the two men who had stopped him talking with police and mall security.

“I thought, how crazy is this, all these officers for taking pictures of Santa Claus,” Rensberger said.

Rensberger said Basford stopped him and said, “Why are you taking pictures of kids?”

“I can’t believe you are asking me that,” Rensberger said to the officer. “Do you mind if I take a picture of you?”

Rensberger said he reached in his pocket and pulled out his camera and raised it to take a picture of the police officer. Basford grabbed the camera to prevent him from taking a picture, which is when Rensberger said he took his free hand and brought it up to the small camera because he was afraid it was going to drop on the ground.

According to Rensberger, Basford said, “Don’t you touch me.”

Rensberger said he told the officer he wasn’t touching him.

“Then he grabs my left hand and takes it around my back while Santa and the kids and everyone looked on,” Rensberger said. “I’m scared to death he is going to dislocate my shoulder. I’m begging him not to do that and he responded, ‘If it dislocates, I’ll call the paramedics.’ By no means was I trying to resist arrest.”

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