Blade Illustration/ Tom Fisher
LIMA, Ohio — Military police detained a Blade reporter and a photographer Friday outside the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and confiscated the photographer’s cameras.
Blade reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser said they went to the driveway entrance of the tank plant operated by General Dynamics’ Land Systems on Friday afternoon. They stayed outside the plant’s gate and did not pass an unmanned guard shack. The pair were leaving when they were stopped by military police.
After protest by The Blade, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s office made a call to General Dynamics. Keith Deters, manager of the plant, said Friday evening he was able to persuade the military police to release the cameras after they reviewed the photographs.
Despite getting the equipment back, John Robinson Block, The Blade’s publisher and editor-in-chief, called the incident disturbing.
“I’m personally shocked by this incident,” Mr. Block said. “I believe our people were totally in the right.”
Both Mr. Linkhorn and Ms. Fraser were wearing Blade and news media credentials. They were detained, and Ms. Fraser said she was placed in handcuffs and escorted out of their vehicle when she initially refused to provide military police her driver’s license, saying that she was not the person driving the vehicle.
The military police called Blade editors to confirm that Ms. Fraser and Mr. Linkhorn were Blade employees. They seized Ms. Fraser’s cameras, telling her that photography of any part of the plant was not permitted.
A plant security coordinator would need to review the photographs before the cameras could be returned, Ms. Fraser said she was told. That employee was not at the plant and would not be there until Monday.
Both Blade employees were released, but military police kept the cameras.
A Blade staff photographer retrieved the cameras from the plant around 8:30 p.m. from a military police commander — about seven hours after they were seized.
Upon examining the cameras, she noticed that they didn't have any of the photos of the exterior of the tank plant — about a half dozen — that Ms. Fraser took.
She then asked the commander if the military deleted the images off the camera. She was told that a representative from the facility deleted them.
Mr. Deters said no one from General Dynamics handled the cameras. "I would have no idea" who would have deleted the photos, he said.
Mr. Linkhorn and Ms. Fraser were in Lima covering a Ford Motor Co. news conference at the automaker’s Lima plant. Afterward, they went to shoot photos of businesses in the area for future use when they were detained. Everything Ms. Fraser photographed is visible from Buckeye Road, and can be seen on both Google Earth and Google Street View.
Ms. Fraser said that an officer told her that taking pictures of the plant’s power supply that is visible from the street raised the “suspicion of terrorism.”
“I really don’t understand what I was not allowed to photograph. If I can see it from the road, it’s available to the public eye,” she said. “If there is something terribly significant there, then they should probably hide it from the public.”
Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said that because Ms. Fraser photographed only what could be seen from a public roadway, military police had no right to detain her or Mr. Linkhorn or to take her cameras.
“From our point of view, these are people [who] completely overstepped their authority, probably because they were bored,” Mr. Osterreicher said.
The Blade is considering legal action.
This isn’t the first time a Blade staff member was detained and a camera confiscated while working for the newspaper.
The National Transportation Safety Board was forced to apologize to The Blade and its photographer Herral Long in 1997 as part of a settlement for detaining Mr. Long and seizing film from his camera while he was covering the crash of Comair Flight 3272 in Ida, Mich.
The NTSB admitted its actions “compromised the constitutional rights of Mr. Long and The Blade, and do not appear to have been authorized by existing federal law, regulation, or order.”
The NTSB and the state of Michigan agreed to pay The Blade and Mr. Long $26,000.