Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Journalists Detained, Possessions Confiscated

I am concerned by the reports of the incident Monday night in which Minneapolis police officers detained three out-of-town journalists/videographers and confiscated personal possessions including two video cameras, two still cameras, two cellphones, notebooks, fliers, a backpack full of clothing and other personal effects, and even allegedly some cash.

However, I’m very pleased to say that after the media attention (see here, here, here, here and here) and my inquiries, the journalists’ property has been returned to them today.

I have heard from the MPD administration that these journalists were detained on suspicion of trespassing on railroad property, and that the personal belongings of these journalists were “held pending review by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

The journalists have flatly denied that they set foot on railroad land. There are several reasons that I suspect they are telling the truth:

- They claim to have been walking to the corner of 6th Ave NE and 27th St NE from the bus stop at Washington Ave and 27th, two blocks to the east, where they had just gotten off a number 17 bus. This is supported by the bus schedule, which indeed show that a bus stops at that corner at 1:28am, minutes from the beginning of the incident. The rail yards are to the west of the house at which they were staying.
- According to the journalists’ account of the incident, the police originally questioned them about car burglaries, not trespassing. This has not been contradicted by any statement of the MPD.
- The MPD claim that officers confiscated these possessions to search for documentary evidence that the journalists were indeed trespassing on rail land. This offers no explanation whatsoever as to why the bag full of clothing, notebooks, fliers and money were confiscated, as none of these possessions could possibly offer evidence of the alleged trespass.

The City Attorney is still deciding whether or not to press misdemeanor trespass charges.

I have joined with the journalists in calling for the MPD to release the squad car videos, which can quickly substantiate either the MPD or the journalists’ version of events.

If the evidence fails to prove that these folks were trespassing on railroad property, I think they deserve a public apology from the City.

This is unfortunately not the only incident in the last several days in which journalists have been targeted by the MPD. KSTP news has footage of one of their cameramen being pushed into an elevator by an MPD sergeant, to prevent him from filming a protest. Another person also claims to have been detained and verbally abused by MPD officers for taking pictures from a public sidewalk.

This is a disturbing pattern, and as I have said, it sets exactly the tone the Council was looking to prevent when we created the work group to create a model for how the City can preserve the right to political speech and civic debate without disrupting community life during the 2008 Republican National Convention last Spring, and when we passed the Police Practices Resolution just last month. Part the latter explicitly prohibits MPD officers from confiscating cameras.

I hope that by returning these civilians’ possessions we can put this incident behind us, and that by taking a careful look at all these incidents, we can prevent further missteps and establish a better climate of welcoming public scrutiny and the independent, free press and mass media to enhance and strengthen civic participation rather than stifle it.


At 9:06 AM, Blogger Leigha said...

Thank you for this post, Cam. For further clarification, is the Police Practices Resolution to which you referred available online for the public to view?

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Robin Garwood said...

Yes, you can see the resolution here. The resolution starts on page 572, but the paragraph involving cameras is number 27, on page 574. All of you political junkies out there should also check out the "sausage-making" process starting on page 571.

It should also be noted that paragraph 29 of the resolution also has some bearing on this issue: "MPD officers will not subject law abiding demonstration organizers to disparate
enforcement actions. MPD officers will not target law abiding persons not engaged in demonstrating, including journalists, camera people, and legal observers, for enforcement actions."

At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait for the inevitable lawsuit to follow.

It's safe to assume that we as Minneapolis taxpayers will be footing the bill for the MPD's conduct in this instance and others throughout the upcoming week.

Would it be too much to ask to actually hold our officers accountable for such constitutional abuses.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Tony Webster said...

As always, I appreciate the leadership role you've taken in relation to all of this.

I look forward to seeing video and hearing the real reasons MPD detained the journalists.

The Minnesota Independent reports that RNC protesters and activities may be "picked up" around Minneapolis over the weekend for political reasons.

I'm hoping for a smooth weekend and convention, and not to ever say violent protesters are in the right, but if we look at how things are going in Denver, I think we're in for a long ride.


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