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Guardsmen detain free-lance reporter at airport

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Newsgathering         Oct 25, 2001    

Guardsmen detain free-lance reporter at airport

  • A writer for a California weekly claimed that authorities ordered him to delete film from his digital camera after he took pictures of security checkpoints at Los Angeles International Airport.

A journalist writing a story on homeland security was detained on Oct. 12 by the California National Guard and the Los Angeles Police Department at Los Angeles International Airport and ordered to delete digital photos of security checkpoints at the airport.

R.V. Scheide, a free-lance reporter writing a story for the Sacramento News and Review in Sacramento, Calif., claims the threats came after he took a picture of an armed member of the National Guard.

“He spooked me,” RV Scheide said. “He had a gun, and I was in a hurry to catch my next flight, so I deleted them.”

Scheide flew from Sacramento International Airport to Los Angeles in order to observe and photograph checkpoints at airports, set up in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy to provide better security measures. He took a few photos of guards standing at these checkpoints before one guard yelled for him to stop taking pictures.

“He told me I couldn’t take pictures and got very angry with me,” Scheide said. “I tried to save the photos, but the more I tried, the angrier he got.”

Scheide deleted the photos and returned to the gate to catch his flight home.

But after boarding his return flight to Sacramento, a Southwest Airlines employee told Scheide to leave the plane. Los Angeles police officers greeted him at the gate.

“They asked me for ID, so I gave it to them,” he said. “I told them I was a journalist. They read through my notebook while I sat there asking questions and not getting answers.”

Officials told Scheide he was being removed from the plane because other passengers on the flight said he was “acting suspicious.” Scheide had to wait two more hours until FBI officials arrived at the airport.

FBI officials determined he did nothing wrong.

“He was in a public place taking photographs,” Tom Walsh, editor of the Sacramento News and Review, said. “The FBI determined that the national guardsman overreacted, and he was released.”

“They didn’t know the law,” Scheide added. “They (the guardsmen) were installed without much training on what people can and can’t do.”

Scheide said officials told him that details of the Federal Aviation Administration’s two-day training course were classified, but an FAA spokesman later told him the training did “not instruct guardsmen to confiscate the film or notebooks of anyone, including journalists.”

Scheide said a National Guard spokesman told him that the guardsman he photographed was a part of the California National Guard’s Counter-Drug Task Force and did not want his picture taken. The spokesman also said Scheide could not include the guardsman’s name in an article.

“Guards are out there to be seen,” Scheide said. “No other person disagreed to this, no one else had their film taken.”

Scheide said his experience was unpleasant, but his story ran in the News and Review today. He said he hopes that guardsmen will get proper training, so other journalists will not have to suffer through an experience like his.


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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