An Ohio newspaper has filed a federal lawsuit
against several government officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, after two of its journalists were detained last week by military security outside a tank-manufacturing plant.
In its lawsuit, The Blade
of Toledo says military security detained reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser outside the General Dynamics Lima tank plant while they were there on March 28 taking photographs.
The action claims Fraser and Linkhorn were "unlawfully detained," and that Fraser received threats of bodily harm. Further, the journalists' cameras were confiscated, and their photos were destroyed, leading the newspaper to charge that their constitutional rights were violated, including the First Amendment's freedom of the press.
"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 lawsuit states. The journalists "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."
A Blade editorial
said the lawsuit wasn't filed just for the newspaper's benefit or the news media in general, but because "no American citizens deserve to be mistreated as our colleagues Jetta Fraser and Tyrel Linkhorn were."
Further, the editorial said, officials indicated "police would commit the same outrages if the situation were to arise again," prompting The Blade to file an FBI complaint along with the federal lawsuit.
Linkhorn and Fraser were in Lima, Ohio, to cover a Ford Motor Co. news conference at the company's factory. After the event, they went to shoot photos of area businesses for future use, including at the tank plant, also known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
When they were detained, the reporters were at the entry portions of the plant where there was no fence or gate restrictions, and they did not pass an occupied guard building, according to the lawsuit.
The paper says Fraser took several photographs of property visible from public streets, and as she and Linkhorn were leaving, three military police officers stopped them, asking for identification.
Fraser said she showed her Blade identification, refusing to provide her driver's license since she was not driving, and the officers put her in handcuffs for more than an hour and referred to her "in terms denoting the masculine gender," the lawsuit said. And when she objected, she was told, "You say you are a female, I’m going to go under your bra," the lawsuit alleges.
In all, the officers confiscated two cameras, memory cards, a personal calendar, and a notebook before releasing both journalists about 90 minutes later while keeping their equipment.
Another Blade photographer, through the intervention of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, retrieved the cameras from the plant that night, but all photographs of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and of the Husky Refinery Plant were deleted.
In a statement to The Huffington Post
, Army officials said they do not dispute the plant is visible from the street, but contend the driveway entrance is private property, and officers were within their rights to stop the journalists.
Don Jarosz, a deputy public affairs officer for the Army’s TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, said police officers detained the two after finding them "within the boundaries" of the Lima plant taking "unauthorized photographs of the installation."
According to the Army's statement, "it is unlawful to take any photograph" at the plant without first obtaining permission from the commanding officer. "Signage to this effect is visible and warns that any such material found in the possession of unauthorized personnel will be confiscated."
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