OCEANSIDE — A San Diego Superior Court judge on Feb. 13 found a photojournalist guilty of erratic driving while trying to get the scoop on a local emergency.
Minutes before Judge Joan Weber rendered her verdict at the bench trial, she said she was a firm believer in media access, but felt defendant James Charles Playford of Ramona may have a skewed view of those rights. Weber’s comments were a direct response to Playford’s testimony in which he referred to himself as a “first responder.”
Weber found Playford guilty of misdemeanor reckless driving, which she called a very minor violation. She said the key issue for her was whether Playford drove over a center median when he entered a shopping center off of Douglas Drive at Mission Avenue last July that was being evacuated due to a structure fire in the complex.
Two Oceanside police officers testified they had blocked the south entrance off and were using the exit and entrance lanes of the north entrance to evacuate people from the shopping center. They said the only way for Playford to get into the complex was for him to drive over a grassy portion of the center median. Prior to Playford entering the north entrance, they said they first noticed the defendant on Douglas Drive, which was also closed, and he proceeded toward them at which time one of the officers waved him on and told him to go north to Mission Avenue.
Both officers said Playford had his emergency hazards on throughout the incident; however, they had discrepancies in their testimonies about Playford’s speed when he approached them on Douglas Drive. Officer Todd Ringrose said the defendant was moving “pretty fast” and he had to move out of the way to avoid being hit. Officer Josh Ferry said Playford was traveling at a low rate of speed.
Playford testified he approached the officers slowly with his hazards on and agreed Ringrose waved him off of the south entrance; however, he said he never heard the officer tell him to proceed to Mission Avenue. He said he drove in through the north entrance lane because only the exit lane was being utilized. Playford said it would’ve been impossible to travel over the median because it was covered with high bushes.
Following a brief police pursuit through the parking lot, Playford was cited by Ferry for reckless driving, according to court testimony. Upon exiting his vehicle, the officer said Playford presented him his press credentials.
For Playford, the citation was an example of the “constant attacks” he said he and other journalists have been subjected to by the Oceanside Police Department while trying to perform their media duties.
Outside the courtroom, Ringrose said neither he or his department has a bias toward Playford or the media.
Playford received three years summary probation for the infraction.