Both the National Press Photographers Association and the Purdue Exponent have written letters to Purdue University asking for an investigation into the Jan. 21 detainment and treatment of a student photo editor, according to a story Wednesday from the Student Press Law Center.
The student, Michael Takeda, also wrote a letter about what happened when he went to cover the school shooting that day that resulted in one fatality.
Dear Chief Cox:
I am filing a formal complaint of harassment, unwarranted detention and violation of my rights by officers while on the Purdue campus.
On Jan. 21, I was stopped just inside the Electrical Engineering Building entrance near the skywalk between EE and MSEE. There were no police barriers or signs telling people not to enter the building.
I don’t have a problem with being questioned. I do have a problem with the treatment I received from police. Even though I had Nikon cameras in both hands and identified myself as an Exponent photographer on assignment, police screamed at me to get on the ground. I started to comply, but, apparently, police did not think I was acting quickly enough. One officer had his taser pointed at me even though I posed no threat to them or was I carrying any weapons and was completely compliant. I was already on my knees when police rushed to me and pushed me to the ground as I inevitably used the cameras in my hands to avoid landing straight in my face.
SPLC details what police said to Takeda, who identified himself as a journalist and was told “the Exponent’s already been a ‘pain in the ass,’” according to the Exponent officials’ letter.”
Later, according to the letter, an officer at the police station also told 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.’”
In his letter, Takeda requests an investigation and reimbursement for his equipment. In a letter from the Exponent’s news adviser and general manager, an investigation is also requested, with a report detailing the findings. The letter also points out that this isn’t the first time police officers have harassed Exponent photographers.
SPLC also links to a letter from NPPA’s general counsel, Mickey Osterreicher.
This case sets a terrible example for students and the public regarding the abridgment by law enforcement of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression and of the press and is especially egregious because it appears that this photojournalist was specifically targeted by police because the officer was concerned that he might have photographed some blood. I would remind you that law enforcement’s job is one of enforcing laws, ensuring public safety and collecting evidence. It is not one of making editorial judgments or exercising an onerous form of prior restraint by preventing photographs from being taken.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the name of the student paper Purdue Exponent was misspelled in one instance.