Minneapolis official says RNC videographers get stuff back

Three out-of-town police watchdog/videographers whose cameras and computers were confiscated by Minneapolis police Tuesday got their equipment back, Minneapolis City Councilmember Cam Gordon says.

The videographers, affiliated with New York’s Glass Bead Collective, say they were getting off a bus when police confiscated their equipment. At the time, the videographers say, the police said they were investigating area car thefts. Later, authorities said the trio was taking images of a nearby rail yard.

In a post to the Minneapolis-Issues Forum, Gordon casts doubt on the police claim, noting the inconsistency. (Note: I manage the forum.)

Gordon says he would be “very surprised” if the city attorney files charges, and says several recent incidents form a “disturbing pattern” that recent Council actions were intended to prevent. Gordon, a longtime skeptic of police restraint, calls for a “careful look” at police actions to “prevent further missteps.”

You can read his message in this discussion thread, and here’s the full text:

I am concerned by the reports of the incident Monday night in which Minneapolis police officers detained three out-of-town journalists/videographers and confiscated personal possessions including two video cameras, two still cameras, two cellphones, notebooks, fliers, a backpack full of clothing and other personal effects, and even allegedly some cash.
 
However, I’m very pleased to say that after the media attention and my inquiries, the journalists property has been returned to them today.
 
I have heard from Minneapolis Police (MPD) administration that these journalists were detained on suspicion of trespassing on railroad property, and that the personal belongings of these journalists were held pending review by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
 
The journalists have flatly denied that they set foot on railroad land. There are several reasons that I suspect they are telling the truth:
 
– They claim to have been walking to the corner of 6th Ave NE and 27th St NE from the bus stop at Washington Ave and 27th, two blocks to the east, where they had just gotten off a number 17 bus. This is supported by the bus schedule, which indeed stops at that corner at 1:28 a.m., minutes from the beginning of the incident. The rail yards are to the west of the house at which they were staying.

– According to the journalists’ account of the incident, the police originally questioned them about car burglaries, not trespassing. This has not been contradicted by any statement of the MPD.

– The MPD claim that officers confiscated these possessions to search for documentary evidence that the journalists were indeed trespassing on rail land. This offers no explanation whatsoever as to why the bag full of clothing, notebooks, fliers and money were confiscated, as none of these possessions could possibly offer evidence of the alleged trespass.
 
The City Attorney is still deciding whether or not to press misdemeanor trespass charges. I would be very surprised if any charges were filed.
 
I have joined with the journalists in calling for the MPD to release the squad car videos, which can quickly substantiate either the MPD or the journalists version of events.
 
If the evidence fails to prove that these folks were trespassing on railroad property, I think a public apology to them from the City should be done.
 
This is unfortunately not the only incident in the last several days in which journalists have been targeted by the MPD. KSTP news has footage of one of their cameramen being pushed into an elevator by an MPD sergeant, to prevent him from filming a protest. Another person also claims to have been detained and verbally abused for taking pictures from a public sidewalk.
 
This is a disturbing pattern, and as I have said, it sets exactly the tone the Council was looking to prevent when we created the work group to create a model for how the City can preserve the right to political speech and civic debate without disrupting community life during the 2008 Republican National Convention last Spring, and when we passed the Police Practices Resolution just last month. Part the latter explicitly prohibits MPD officers from confiscating cameras. 
 
I hope that by returning these civilians possessions we can put this incident behind us, and that by taking a careful look at all these incidents, we can prevent further missteps and establish a better climate of welcoming public scrutiny and the independent, free press and mass media to enhance and strengthen civic participation rather than stifle it.

Cam Gordon
Seward

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 08/28/2008 - 03:41 pm.

    The media, in their general practice of talking to two sides and reporting each, has been missing the central story. The central issue is not whether the three traspassed but whether misdemeanor tresspass (even if true) is grounds for a warrantless seizure of personal property absent cause for arrest. It isn’t in this incident, and good journalism would involve talking to legal experts and not just reporting the city’s (i.e. MPD’s) statement. In other words, everything written about this incident implies the police had justification if their facts about the incident are correct and I believe legal experts would indicate otherwise.
    Aside from the contradiction Cam Gordon mentions about the police inquiry being about burglaries and not tresspass, there is another. If officers truly saw tresspass, that’s all the evidence they would need — how could searching belongings provide evidence that alleged trespass and police “eyewitnessing” could not? And how does not saying where one is staying (exercising constitutional right not to chat with police) have any relationship to cause to seize personal belongings?
    Unfortunately, I’ve seen similar police approaches(different officers) when reviewing police misconduct files as a member of the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority board. When police want to search, they sometimes find an ends justifies the means dishonest rationale — constitution be damned. The difference here is usually an arrest occurs (which does give grounds for a search). The problem with this incident is that the lesson to some in the MPD will not be about failure to follow the constitution and city ordinance but failure to cloak the actions through an arrest. Hopefully, the city attorney will not feel pressured to bring an unethical prosecution.

  2. Submitted by jessie inglett on 09/01/2008 - 11:10 am.

    Before finding this article, I had been to several sites, attempting to get the truth about the arrests. Your story confirms the arrests and gives the facts. The blog site I was commenting on, had a very biased opinion of the incident. They were very critical of the police action and the Republicans. After reading your story, it would seem that the police targeted these people. The city government appears to have tried to avoid an incident like this and acted quickly to remedy the situation. Could it be that the officers were predisposed to target this group for their protests against police? Thanks for the story and just the facts. Your story allows the reader to form his or her view of what was right or wrong.

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