Purdue Cops Throw Student Journalist To Ground, Seize His Camera And Detain Him For Three Hours

Tech Dirt – by Tim Cushing

from the we’ll-let-you-know-what-your-rights-are-once-we’ve-finished-violating-th dept

Cops vs. cameras: the apparently never ending battle continues. A student photojournalist at Purdue found himself on the receiving end of a little extra “attention” while attempting to cover Tuesday’s on-campus shooting.   

In the midst of Tuesday’s shooting, an Exponent employee was detained by the police while trying to fulfill his journalistic duties.

Exponent photo editor Michael Takeda, a junior in the College of Technology, was slammed to the ground by the Purdue Police after being found in the Electrical Engineering Building taking photos. The area had not been closed off to the public at the time.

The officers confiscated Takeda’s camera and photos, detained and questioned his whereabouts within the building, which was then on lockdown after being held by the police for roughly three hours.

While it’s somewhat understandable that the campus police might be a bit on edge while looking for a shooter, that doesn’t excuse any of the actions they took when they came across Takeda. (You can see his article on the shooting here.) It shouldn’t have taken three hours to determine whether Takeda was involved in the shooting and his presence in a building that hadn’t been “locked down” should not have been greeted with the use of force. Those who say people who are “doing nothing wrong” shouldn’t fear police officers might want to reexamine that assertion in light of Takeda’s experience. One also wonders whether the presence of the camera escalated the officers’ physical response.

The police finally let Takeda go after detaining him for three hours but they had no interest in returning his equipment to him until someone higher up the ladder at Purdue interceded on his behalf.

[I]it was only after Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, prodded the University that Takeda’s belongings were bequeathed to him.

“They were very cooperative, and they recognized right away that this was a serious situation that required their immediate attention,” LoMonte said.

LoMonte said, though the University was helpful in releasing Takeda’s belongings, it was just the police’s instinct to retrieve his belongings, despite the possible infringement of a federal law.

By “retrieve,” I assume LoMonte means “seize.” Notwithstanding this oral typo, what LoMonte says next is both unsurprising and sad.

“Honestly I think almost nobody knows that is the law, not even lawyers,” LoMonte laughed.

LoMonte may be laughing but I don’t think I’ll be joining him. People who are charged with enforcing laws or keeping clients out of jail should be familiar with the laws that are an integral part of their jobs. The law LoMonte refers to isn’t a recent development prompted by the ubiquity of smartphone cameras. It’s been on the books for more than 30 years and was crafted in response to an incident at another college, Stanford University.

“(It) specifically says that the police cannot confiscate or search where journalists keep their unpublished work product unless they first go in front of a judge and give the journalist the chance to argue his side,” LoMonte said

Now, police have ways around this limitation — the always-useful “exigent situation” exception. This is supposed to be used only when the safety of officers or the public is immediately threatened. In reality, the exception is most frequently used to ask for post-rights violation “forgiveness.” The Purdue officers didn’t cite this exception, but it will probably be deployed if Takeda decides to make some more noise about his treatment. Is it really too much to ask for law enforcement officers to know and respect the laws governing their actions?



One thought on “Purdue Cops Throw Student Journalist To Ground, Seize His Camera And Detain Him For Three Hours

  1. Hang ’em! Hang ’em! Hang ’em! Hang ’em! Hang ’em! Hang ’em! Hang ’em! Do I make myself clear? Them meaning the cops. Now do I make myself REALLY clear?

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