Monday, February 17, 2014

Purdue photojournalist detained, and his equipment seized covering a shooting

Freedom of PressOn January 21, 2014, Michael Takeda, Purdue University Exponent newspaper photo editor, was attempting to photograph the aftermath of an on campus shooting in the Electrical Engineering Building.

Mr. Takeda reports he was at the entrance to the building near the skywalk where there were no police barriers or signs telling anyone not to enter the building, and identified himself to the Purdue University Campus Police as an Exponent photographer. Mr. Takeda had a Nikon camera in each of his hands at the time.

Mr. Takeda reports that police immediately screamed at him to get on the ground, despite having already identified himself. He further stated that one police officer pointed his taser at him, and when he was already on his knees, other police offices rushed him and pushed him to the ground.

The police don't deny that at that point they seized all his photographic equipment and detained and questioned him for hours before finally releasing him and his equipment, after the Student Press Law Center intervened on his behalf. Mr. Takeda was completely prevented from covering the shooting news story.

The Student Press Law Center detailed, in a letter to University officials, that the campus police told Mr. Takeda that “The Exponent's already been a 'pain in the ass.'” They further stated an officer at the police station told Mr. Takeda, “You fucking Exponent people are idiots. One of your reporters is an idiot who has already given us trouble. You're lucky you didn't get double-tapped in the chest. I hope you get charged then thrown out of school. And you know what you'll be doing next year? Working at McDonald's.”

Here it seems we have another police department out of control and afraid of having their actions scrutinized by the press on behalf of the public. Too many police departments don't seem to understand the importance of the press for the good of society, nor understand the US Constitution, and they also don't seem to care.

National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)¹ General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher, in a letter to Purdue Senior Director of Environmental Health and Policy, Carol Shelby, denounced the campus police department's actions.

Mr. Osterreicher wrote, “In any free country the balance between actual vigilance and over-zealous enforcement is delicate. While it may be understandable that law enforcement officers had a heightened sense of awareness after the shooting, we believe that they abused that discretion by detaining Mr. Takeda, seizing his camera equipment and, if the comments and actions attributed to them are true, acting in an unprofessional and lawless manner.”
All of us, every citizen, must be wary of police departments who “exceed their mandate to enforce to law, and risk trampling on important First Amendment rights.”
Congress has addressed this situation with the Privacy Protection Act of 1980. This legislation prohibits law enforcement from seizing a journalists work product or recorded material without a judge's permission, except under very specific circumstances. A police officer could seize a journalists notes and photographs if there is reason to believe their confiscation is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm. Much short of that they need to obtain a warrant first, something the Purdue Campus Police didn't obtain in this case.

If we expect to preserve our Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, what America stands for and what makes it great, we must stand up to the bullying of journalists and the general public alike, by the police, in their effort to hide their actions from those for whom they work and to whom they are fully accountable.

¹ Ned Levi the author of this article is a member of the National Press Photographers Association.

No comments:

Post a Comment