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Newspaper sues Forest Services over arrests, confiscation

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Newspaper sues Forest Services over arrests, confiscation09/23/96 OREGON--The (Eugene) Register-Guard in mid-September sued the U.S. Forest Service after agents in…

Newspaper sues Forest Services over arrests, confiscation

09/23/96

OREGON–The (Eugene) Register-Guard in mid-September sued the U.S. Forest Service after agents in mid-August arrested two of its journalists who were covering a protest in the Willamette National Forest near Eugene.

The suit, filed in federal District Court in Eugene, charges that the Forest Service officers who arrested reporter Jeff Wright and photography intern Anthony Robert La Penna and confiscated their notes and cameras in mid-August violated the journalist’s First Amendment rights.

Wright and La Penna were charged with criminal trespass. Officers confiscated a notebook from Wright, and took two cameras, film and other photographic equipment from La Penna. The film was developed and the notes were copied and examined before being returned the following Monday. The arrests were made on a Friday.

A Forest Service spokesman said the officials had hoped to find some type of evidence on the film. The reporters were covering the mass arrests of protesters who had occupied an old-growth timber area for 11 months.

“This is simply the outright seizure by police of news gathering tools of working journalists. That is not a common thing in this country and it is very chilling,” said Jim Godbold, managing editor of The Register-Guard. The newspaper reported that the Forest Service said the seizure of such evidence is “routine.”

Godbold also said the officers violated the state constitution of Oregon, the state shield law, the federal Privacy Protection Act, and the Fourth Amendment.

Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) wrote to Forest Servive Chief Jack Ward Thomas, requesting a “detailed description” of the arrests and a review of rules concerning media access in protest situations. (The Register-Guard v. U.S. Forest Service; Media Counsel: Bruce Smith, Eugene)