CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An internal investigation by Charleston police exonerates the officer who arrested an award-winning video journalist after he took pictures of Santa Claus and a choir at the Town Center Mall in December.
Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said at least eight witnesses, including the man playing Santa Claus in the mall at the time, had a version of events that differed from Scott Rensberger's.
Rensberger, 47, of Washington, D.C., filed a complaint against Charleston Police Cpl. R.C. Basford after he was charged with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.
"There were eight to 10 witnesses that saw the incident or part of the incident and saw the way he approached the officer or saw the way [the officer] handled himself and they just did not support what [Rensberger] said," Webster said.
According to the complaints filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Rensberger slapped the Basford's hand as the officer attempted to block Rensberger from taking a picture of him on Dec. 7. Rensberger then "attempted to pull away" from the officer, Basford wrote in the complaint.
Rensberger said the officer grabbed at his camera and that he placed his other hand on the camera to keep it from falling. He said he was taking pictures to send to his girlfriend in Washington.
When he filed the complaint, Rensberger said he told police he was trying to grab the camera, not the officer's hand.
"This officer is lying," Rensberger said Monday. "You have a police officer in your city who told what happened was that I slapped him. That is a lie. I was begging him not to hurt me. ... This is an egotistical man who all of the sudden got mad because he didn't like his picture being taken."
Attempts to reach the man playing Santa Claus and the other witnesses on Monday were unsuccessful.
Rensberger, who works out of Washington, D.C., had been hired to take photos of government buildings as a subcontractor for the IRS. The day he was arrested he had just taken pictures of the Sidney L. Christie Federal Building in Huntington and went to the Charleston Town Center mall to eat dinner 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 at the time. "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.
He went into a store to shop for a scarf for her when two men stopped him and told him he had taken a photo of one of their children with Santa Claus. He said he deleted the photos, but when he walked back by the Santa Claus area, the two men were talking to Basford, who stopped him.
Rensberger said Basford asked him, "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 then tried to snap a photo of Basford and that Basford grabbed at the camera.
He said he's shocked that all of the witnesses side with police.