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.