Those involved in securing our military operations can’t be too cautious. Terrorism must always be a concern.
But military police at the Joint System Manufacturing Center, more commonly known as the General Dynamics Lima Army tank plant, appear to have gone overboard recently in the name of security.
Officers detained two journalists from The Toledo Blade after they took photographs of the plant’s exterior from just off Buckeye Road, on the southwest side of Lima, March 28.
Reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser were released after about an hour, but not before Fraser’s cameras were confiscated and held until Sen. Rob Portman intervened. By then, authorities had deleted all photos of the tank plant.
The Blade has since filed suit, claiming the incident violated Linkhorn and Fraser’s constitutional rights. The action is based on alleged violations of the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments. The government has not yet answered the complaint.
Linkhorn and Fraser were in Lima covering a press conference at the Ford engine plant, and stopped to take photos of the tank plant for future use in Blade stories. That’s a common practice for news photographers to shoot other subjects while on assignment for another.
While the reason for the journalists being at the tank plant isn’t relevant, where they were is. The plant, because it is considered a military operation, is subject to tight security. Entering the plant itself requires prior notice and clearance.
But Linkhorn and Fraser were well outside the plant and hadn’t even passed the guard hut when they were stopped and detained. Both were wearing Blade identification, yet Fraser was placed in handcuffs when she refused to show officers her driver’s license, even though she wasn’t driving.
There were no signs in the area prohibiting the public or forbidding photography. The photos were shot from the entry area of the plant, but where fence or gate did not restrict access. The photos taken by Fraser were all of property that could be seen from Buckeye Road, which is a public roadway.
In fact, much more detail of the exterior of the plant can easily be found on the Internet, on Google or Yahoo.
The court case will play out. Evidence may reveal there is more to the incident than meets the eye. At this point, though, it would seem the incident was an overreaction by police. If so, policy needs to be reviewed and the officers involved should be disciplined.
If it wasn’t a misstep, it’s not just journalists who have to worry. Anyone who snaps a photograph along Buckeye Road near the tank plant, even with a cellphone, could find themselves in a similar predicament as Linkhorn and Fraser.
We should all hope that’s not the new rule.
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