Oct. 2, 2007 · A Toledo, Ohio, jury returned a mixed verdict Sept. 28 in the case of two freelance photographers who were arrested while covering a Nazi rally in December 2005.
Jeffrey Sauger, a freelance photojournalist working for European Pressphoto Agency, was found guilty of criminal trespass, while Jim West, a freelance photojournalist working for the Southern Poverty Law Center, was acquitted on the charge of failure to disperse.
Sauger was arrested while photographing the police’s response to anti-Nazi protesters at the rally.
When police arrested him, Sauger was taking photographs from an enclosure set up specifically for members of the media located more than 200 feet from the Nazi rally and 100 feet from those congregated to protest the rally.
Police, though, said that Sauger did not have the temporary press credentials issued by the police to the local media to cover the event. At trial, Sauger argued that he sought out the specialized credentials on the day of the event but his search ultimately ended when a police officer told him he did not need them.
Toledo Municipal Court Judge Lynn H. Schaefer has not yet scheduled a sentencing hearing, but Sauger’s attorney, Julie Hurwitz, said she thinks neither jail time nor fines are likely. No matter what the sentence, Hurwitz said Sauger would likely appeal his conviction, questioning both the tactics used by the police and by the judge in issuing jury instructions.
On the day of the rally, West was arrested and charged with a failure to disperse after photographing police officers ride horses through the crowd of protesters more than an hour before the Nazi rally began. The same jury that convicted Sauger found West not guilty.
Jeffrey Willis of the Toledo (Ohio) Journal, was charged with disorderly conduct after he also photographed police controlling the protesters by riding horses through the crowd. All charges against Willis were dropped prior to trial.
During the trial, Sauger introduced video evidence of the event showing several other members of the media entering and leaving the press area without the temporary credentials.
Hurwitz said it was not a coincidence that Sauger, West and Willis were singled out from the other media at the event, noting that all three were arrested after photographing the manner that police dealt with the assembling anti-Nazi protest. An undercover officer posing as a member of the media identified both Sauger and West immediately before their arrest.
“This creates a very dangerous precedent,” Hurwitz said, arguing that police targeted the arrested journalists because their photographs featured an “overly aggressive police response.”
“The public should be informed when an overzealous use of law enforcement tactics is used in an extremely tense and volatile situation.”
Aside from the police’s behavior, Hurwitz also questioned the jury instructions issued by Judge Schaefer during the trial, arguing that they failed to stress the First Amendment’s protection of newsgathering practices.
“The law has recognized that news media and news gatherers are to be given a certain amount of leeway when covering newsworthy events so long as they do not interfere with the police,” Hurwitz said, adding that the prosecution did not introduce any evidence indicating that any of the journalists hindered the police in any way.
(City of Toledo v. Sauger; Media counsel: Julie Hurwitz, Goodman & Hurwitz, Detroit) — Matthew Pollack