An Ohio newspaper has filed suit against the Federal government over the detention of two journalists and the confiscation of their equipment by military police late last month.
On March 28, reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser, both of Toledo’s The Blade, were detained outside of the government-owned, contractor-operated General Dynamics Land Systems under “suspicion of terrorism” for taking photographs.
Fraser and Linkhorn had been covering a press conference at a nearby Ford Motor Co. plant and stopped off in the industrial area to shoot photos of other local industry for future newsroom use, according to The Blade.
According to a report in the newspaper, the two “stayed outside the plant’s gate and did not pass an unmanned guard shack,” and assumed that they were within their rights to photograph anything in clear view of the public.
“At all material times, Plaintiffs Fraser and Linkhorn were present in places that were open to the public and in which Plaintiffs had a lawful right to be,” the newspaper’s lawsuit states. “At all material times, Plaintiffs Fraser and Linkhorn were engaged in fully lawful and constitutionally protected conduct, observing and photographing subjects that were and are open to public view and that Plaintiffs had full legal and constitutional rights to observe and photograph.”
Once they were detained, the reporters allege their Constitutional rights were violated and that they were physically threatened by the Department of Army Police officials.
Via The Blade:
Ms. Fraser took several photographs, all of which were of property visible from public streets. As the pair were leaving, they were stopped by three officers from the Department of Army Police and questioned.
The officers asked for identification. Ms. Fraser showed the officers her Blade identification, but initially refused to provider her driver’s license, since she was not driving any vehicle. The officers removed her from the vehicle and placed her in handcuffs.
The officers kept Ms. Fraser in handcuffs for more than an hour. The officers on several occasions referred to Ms. Fraser “in terms denoting the masculine gender,” according to the lawsuit. Ms. Fraser objected; later, an officer told her, “You say you are a female, I’m going to go under your bra.”
The officers confiscated two cameras, memory cards, a pocket-sized personal calendar, and a notebook.
The journalists’ equipment was later returned after the newspaper asked Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to intervene — but only after “a number of pictures had been deleted, including all photographs of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and of the Husky Refinery Plant.”
The Blade is seeking unspecified damages and acknowledgement that the journalists’ 1st, 4th and 5th Amendment rights and their rights under the 1st Amendment Privacy Protection Act. Defendants in the lawsuit include Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Systems Manufacturing Center official Lt. Col. Matthew Hodge and military police officer Lt. Stelzer, among others.
Reporting on the case, Photography Is Not A Crime blogger Carlos Miller added an interesting anecdote: “Just last year, General Dynamics Land Systems landed a nice contract with Saudi Arabia to build tanks for its army, which probably wouldn’t hesitate to use them against citizens who try to photograph them, considering they are ranked almost last in the world when it comes to freedom of the press.”