The Blade filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court against a variety of government officials over the detention last week of two journalists by military security outside the General Dynamics Lima tank plant.
Blade reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser were detained March 28 by military security outside the plant and had cameras confiscated and pictures deleted.
The lawsuit states that the Ms. Fraser and Mr. Linkhorn were unlawfully detained, that Ms. Fraser was unlawfully restrained and received unlawful threats of bodily harm, that the cameras were unlawfully confiscated and pictures unlawfully destroyed, and that the pair's Constitutional rights were unlawfully prevented from being exercised.
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The lawsuit claims Ms. Fraser and Mr. Linkhorn's First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights were deprived, as were their rights under the First Amendment Privacy Protection Act.
"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. "At all material times, Plaintiffs Fraser and Linkhorn 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."
Mr. Linkhorn and Ms. Fraser were in Lima covering a Ford Motor Co. news conference at the automaker’s plant there. Afterward, they went to shoot photos of businesses in the area for future use, including the tank plant, which is also known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
The reporters were at the entry portions of the plant, in an area where no fence or gate restricted access, according to the complaint. They did not pass a guard hut, which is about 30 feet from Buckeye Road.
"There are no signs, traffic-control devices, or any other indications of limited or prohibited public access to the portion of the roadway located between Buckeye Road and the guard hut," according to the lawsuit.
The defendants include Charles T. Hagel, U.S. Secretary of Defense; Lt. Col. Matthew Hodge, Commandant of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center; Lt. Stelzer, a member of military police, and others who are identified by first or last names.
Ms. Fraser took several photographs, all of which were of property visible from public streets. As the pair were leaving, they were stopped by three officers from the Department of Army Police and questioned.
The officers asked for identification. Ms. Fraser showed the officers her Blade identification, but initially refused to provider her driver's license, since she was not driving any vehicle. The officers removed her from the vehicle and placed her in handcuffs.
The officers kept Ms. Fraser in handcuffs for more than an hour. The officers on several occasions referred to Ms. Fraser "in terms denoting the masculine gender," according to the lawsuit. Ms. Fraser objected; later, an officer told her, “You say you are a female, I’m going to go under your bra.”
The officers confiscated two cameras, memory cards, a pocket-sized personal calendar, and a notebook.
Through the intervention of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), a Blade photographer retrieved the cameras from the plant about 8:30 p.m. Friday from a police commander. However, a number of pictures had been deleted, including all photographs of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and of the Husky Refinery Plant.
The Blade also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Friday that would prevent the defendants from destroying any evidence, including any video recording to the events. The motion references the deletion of Ms. Fraser's pictures.
"Indeed, Defendants’ wanton disregard for the Constitution and for federal law reached not only to destroying the photographs that were the supposed reason for their conduct but also to the destruction of other photos that had absolutely nothing at all to do with the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center," the motion states. It adds later: "In fact, as set forth in the Verified Complaint, the Defendants have already demonstrated in this very case a breathtaking disregard for any preservation obligations and, indeed, for any legal limits at all on their conduct in regard to evidence."
The Blade asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and that the court declare the conduct a violation of Ms. Fraser and Mr. Linkhorn's constitutional rights and prohibit the defendants from engaging in similar future conduct.
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