FBI Questions Valley Student on Campus
Photo student Bay'an Hedayaty's photographs cause a terror investigation.
Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Updated: Sunday, June 7, 2009 09:06
It was around 10 p.m. in late September at a frigid Hollywood and Highland subway station where Bay'an Hedayaty thought he would fulfill a photography class assignment by taking pictures of a metro car thundering by.
He never thought he would be detained for an hour by deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and later questioned by FBI agents for taking pictures that didn't even come out properly.
"I am part Middle Eastern, but I never knew I looked like a terrorist," said the 30-year-old Valley College student. "I was taking pictures and noticed people were running away from me. I turned around and eight cops had me surrounded like a pack of wolves."
He said he calmly put his arms out to show he was unarmed and then a deputy slammed him against the wall and demanded, "Are you a terrorist?"
"It was the most intense experience of my life," said Hedayaty. "I have never been arrested or in any trouble with the law."
The deputies searched his backpack and made a fuss over a box cutter in his bag, he said. In a heated discussion, Hedayaty explained that he uses it to open parcels on movie sets.
The deputies' suspicions grew stronger when they saw Hedayaty was holding a framed painting, a gift he had received for his 30th birthday, that depicted several buildings with a plane flying over them, reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks.
An official took his ID and disappeared into an upstairs office at the subway station. Hedayaty was forced to sit on the floor, cross-legged, with his arms behind his back for an hour until the officer returned.
When the deputy returned he told Hedayaty, "You're in our file now, next time think twice about what you do." Confused and enraged, he was let go.
"I know they were doing their job," said Hedayaty. "The other officers were all right. But I'll never forgive the sheriff that slammed me against the wall. He is a wanker."
Hedayaty broke no laws. He said he checked first to see if there were any signs that prohibited photography.
Alicia Wagner Calzda, president of the National Press Photographers Association, released the memorandum noting that, "No specific post-September 11 federal law grants the government any additional rights to restrict photography."
"Photography is not normally prohibited," said MTA spokesperson Rick Jager, "But the sheriff's will detain suspicious persons."
"Anyone taking pictures of buses, trains, or subways would be questioned by the law enforcements now days," said FBI Special Agent Norma Loza, "[It] has nothing to do with the race, or religion of a person; it's a matter of safety."
Two weeks later, while working at the Lions Den in Valley College, Hedayaty received an unidentified call on his cell phone. "I don't usually answer unknown numbers." Hedayaty said, "But I answered incase it was my parents calling from New Zealand."
The call was Special Agent Jared Murphey, to request a meeting with Hedayaty. Hedayaty told the agent he worked every day at Valley and finding time for the meeting would be difficult. Agent Murphey agreed to meet him at school outside the Lions Den.
"They had a file on me as thick as a 70-page notebook," Hedayaty said. "I don't know where they got all that, but they had the picture from my ID on it.
"At first I thought Murphey was going to be a wanker like that sheriff from the subway, but he turned out to be a nice guy," said Hedayaty. "He asked me about my family, where I was from and that was it."
Hedayaty carries a demeanor with little animosity and more apathy toward the incident. He laughs and makes jokes about the ordeal and dismisses it saying, "That sheriff probably had some issues. I just wish the photos would have come out."