"Every time I begged him he put it up higher," Rensberger said.
Once in a holding cell, another Charleston police officer got Rensberger some water and listened to his story, he said.
"He treated me with respect. ... He seemed sympathetic," Rensberger said of the sergeant.
Basford, who had taken his camera, interviewed Rensberger once he was in custody. The officer asked him why he'd taken a photograph of a girl still on his camera. The photo is of a choir in the Charleston Town Center Mall. It was taken from the second floor of the mall, looking down. A figure is sitting, watching the choir in the bottom left of the frame.
"I'm not even sure it's a little girl," Rensberger said. "I said, 'I didn't know it was against the law to take a picture of an officer in uniform.' He [Basford] said, 'It's not against the law to take a picture of a police officer unless they don't want you to.'"
Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said his department's internal investigations division would look at what happened to determine if everything had been handled correctly.
"What I think the officer is saying is that he put his hand up there and [Rensberger] slapped it and pushed it away," Webster said. "We'll have internal investigations look at that. ... The use of force report will tell more."
He said Rensberger could also file a complaint on the use of force, but that so far that hadn't been done. The chief said he was withholding judgment on what happened until he knew more.
Webster said Basford was working off-duty as one of the officers that helped with mall security.
Basford had the same radios as other mall security, and likely heard the complaint come in from one of the mall security guards, said mall marketing director Lisa McCracken.
When a working journalist takes photos in the mall, they are supposed to let mall management know, she said.
"A lot of our merchants don't want people to come in and film inside their store," she said.
Mall customers can bring cameras into the mall and take pictures, she said.
"The info I received is that in this case numerous parents and Santa Claus and the Santa photo staff recognized that the individual didn't have any children with him and requested that he stop taking pictures," McCracken said. "The mall responded correctly, just to inquire to see what was going on. That's what we did and that's our responsibility."
Rensberger said he doesn't know if he will sue the department over the incident.
"I don't think I have a choice," he said. "If this guy shows that kind of force to a guy who took a picture of a choir and of Santa and a uniformed police officer in the mall, then what kind of force is he going to show someone in a dark alley somewhere where no one was watching."
When asked why he took the photo of the officer, rather than just answer his question, Rensberger said he wanted a record of who was questioning him.
"I was not under arrest and it was not illegal. ... I've taken photos all over the world and this is the only time I've ever been arrested like this," Rensberger said.
Reach Gary Harki at gha...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.