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Photographers arrested in aftermath of attacks

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    NMU         ROUNDUP         Newsgathering         Sep 25, 2001    

Photographers arrested in aftermath of attacks

  • Law enforcement officials from New York and Pennsylvania remove several photographers from plane crash sites, while military officials in Florida seize camera from TV crew.

In the two-week wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, police officers and other law enforcement agencies in three states detained, arrested or confiscated cameras from several journalists.

In New York, at least four photographers faced charges of criminal trespassing after their arrests near the World Trade Center wreckage. Tyler Hicks, a freelance photographer for the New York Times, spent a night in jail before a judge dropped all charges against him. Ian Austin, a freelance photographer for the Aurora Quanta Productions in Portland, Maine, was charged with criminal trespass and trespass with the intent to obstruct a government operation.

Photographers Stephen Ferry and Emmanuel Dumont also faced criminal-trespassing charges.

In Pennsylvania, photographer William Wendt and his assistant Daniel Mahoney were arrested for defiant trespass at the scene of the United Airlines crash site. Wendt was working for New York Times Magazine when the two men lost their way to the press tent and were arrested after walking 50 yards away and into a restricted zone.

In Tampa, Fla., a security officer at MacDill Air Force Base seized a camera and videotape from a TV news crew taping outside the base gates. Mary Beth Byrd of WTSP/Channel 10 was questioned by the guard as she was working on a story about the mood at the base. The camera was returned later with an apology.

In the initial days after the Sept. 11 attack, journalists were given free rein at the crash sites. But heightened security has resulted in the arrests of journalist trying to cover the story.

Ian Austin, who began covering the devastation on Sept. 14, is an example.

“I was looking to get as close as I could to the rubble pile,” Austin said. “I was walking along the line, and I kept asking if could I cross here. At one checkpoint, I asked a police man if I could cross there, and he let me in.”

When he got within 15 blocks of the World Trade Center, two police officers stopped him and asked for identification and press credentials.

“I produced an ID, but I was not a resident and could not produce credentials,” said Austin, who spent three days in jail.

“The atmosphere was ugly,” he said. “The police told me they were going to make an example out of me.

“I felt hamstrung. I didn’t know what I could do. It was my word against theirs, and I have no recourse.”

The charges against Austin were dropped, but he is in the process of trying to get back more than $5,000 worth of camera equipment.

Wendt and his assistant took a different approach to their situation.

“I was worried about being thrown in jail, having to call someone to bail us out, and not getting a picture, so we pleaded guilty,” Wendt told Photo District News. They paid fines and court fees costing about $300.


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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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