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Photographers arrested for trespassing near military installation

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    NMU         PENNSYLVANIA         Newsgathering         Nov 9, 2000    

Photographers arrested for trespassing near military installation

  • A freelance photographer on assignment for the New York Times was arrested along with his assistant while photographing a cold-war era emergency military command center.

A freelance photographer and his assistant were arrested and charged with trespassing while taking pictures near a U.S. military communications base.

Photographer Jan Staller and his assistant Graziella Pazzanese were attempting to photograph the Alternate Joint Communications Center in Liberty Township, Pa., when military police arrested them for trespassing at a nearby residence on Oct. 21.

Staller and Pazzanese were assigned to photograph the center, also known as Site R, for an upcoming story in The New York Times Magazine. According to Staller, officials at the base refused to let them photograph the site from inside the compound, so the pair decided to take pictures from outside.

After consulting with a neighbor, the two photographers decided to set up on the porch of a newly complete, but unoccupied house that overlooks the base, Staller said. “I figured it was the countryside and neighborly advice is sufficient,” he said.

While Staller and Pazzanese took photos, the homeowner arrived and confronted them. Staller said he identified himself and presented the homeowner with a letter explaining the assignment, but the owner refused to let them leave.

“He was just irate,” Staller said. “He blocked our vehicle in the driveway and called the MPs.”

The two journalists were arrested by Liberty Township Police and the military police confiscated their film.

Signs near the entrance to Site R include a Secretary of Defense directive from 1954 prohibiting photographs, drawings, notes, audio recordings and video recordings of the base. It also warns that materials will be confiscated.

Staller and Pazzanese pleaded guilty to trespassing and were released.

“I just figured I’d be out of there more quickly,” Staller said of his plea. “I didn’t really know whether I would be held for a trial.”

Staller said the police could have used more discretion. “I frankly thought that the police were needlessly going by the book. They handcuffed us and didn’t allow us to go on our own recognizance.”

Even before arresting Staller, the military police tried to intimidate him, he said. Twice during the assignment he and Pazzanese were detained and questioned by officials at Site R.

“They asked a lot of details,” Staller said. “Like our name, social security number, who asked us to photograph the site.”

Despite the detainment, Staller completed the assignment and delivered the pictures to The New York Times.

Kira Pollack, an editor on the magazine’s photo desk, confirmed that Staller was completing an assignment for the Times when he was arrested. She said at least one his pictures will appear in the Dec. 3 issue. Other editors at the magazine declined to comment on the legal issues surrounding Staller’s case.

During his 25-year career, Staller’s photographs have been featured in magazines such as Time, Life, U.S. News and World Report and Fortune. He has authored six photography books and his collections have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The Defense Department created the special communications center in the 1950s as a fortified, underground base to be used as an alternate to the Pentagon’s “war room.” In the event of a nuclear strike on Washington, D.C., the facility could be used as a remote operations center for high-ranking military leaders.


© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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