15 October 2014

March 29 was just another working day for two working journalists from the Toledo Blade. They began by attending a press conference at a Ford factory in Lima, Ohio. On the way back to the office, the pair, Jetta Fraiser and Tyrel Linkhorn, were assigned to update their publication's stock photo library by taking exterior shots of industrial facilities in the area. Their trip to a Heinz ketchup plant was followed by a stop at the General Dynamics tank plant. That is where the camouflage painted face of post constitutional America raised its ugly head and the day turned sour. The conduct of the soldiers on American soil has caused Fraiser and Linkhorn's employer, the Toledo Blade to file a federal lawsuit against the army, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and several individual soldiers.

The pair were engaged in a routine, unglamorous journalistic task. Pull up to a building, take some photos of the building, go back to the office, and catalog the photos in case they might one day be relevant to some future story. Fraiser, who was handling the camera, took photos of a driveway entrance to a sprawling plant with an unmanned guard post, a chain link fence and a grass median. Upon leaving, they were detained not by civilian, but military police.

The armed soldiers detaining the journalists demanded identification. The two produced the photo IDs provided by their employer. The soldiers demanded to see driver’s licenses from both immediately, despite the fact only Linkhorn had been driving.

Fraiser refused to produce a driver's license at first and asked that the soldiers refer to her by female rather than male pronouns. Fraiser is female. The military police on an American street continued their abuse, handcuffing Fraiser for over an hour and telling her that if she kept insisting that she was female they would “look under her bra to check.”

After more than an hour, the pair were released from both handcuffs and the scene without their camera, memory cards, a personal calendar and other items. Neither was charged with a crime. The United States Army refused to return the camera or any other items calling them “confiscated.” A call from Ohio Republican Senator Portman to General Dynamics brought the eventual return of the camera and memory cards. All of the photos including those of the Ford press conference and the Heinz plant had been deleted by the United States Army military police.

Despite the alleged secure nature of the facility, pictures very similar to the ones taken by the Blade staff are available through Google “Street View.” Google Street View images are generated by cameras installed on clearly marked Google owned cars. There have been no press reports of Google employees being detained or Google cars being confiscated at the Lima tank plant.

The Toledo Blade filed a federal lawsuit regarding the detention of its employees without charge or cause and confiscation of its property without process. The lawsuit names Fraiser and Linkhorn as co-plaintiffs. It lists Secretary of Defense Hagel, the local military commander Lt. Col. Mathew Hodge, a military police Lt. Selzer, two presumably enlisted military policemen Snyder and Workman (first names and ranks unknown), and a civilian Department of Defense employee who identified herself only as “Michelle” as defendants. In addition to the various counts related to detaining Fraiser and Linkhorn along with seizing their and the Blade's property, the suit also accuses the defendants of “the prevention of Plaintiffs’ lawful exercise of their rights under the United States Constitution to lawfully acquire and disseminate information.” The suit rests firmly on the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

Kurk Franck, a Toledo Blade executive editor described the Blade's motivation for suing:“The Blade has always had a tradition that when anything is done that breaks the rules we need to investigate it. We are doing this for the First Amendment rights that were violated for our employees and for the citizens...We are doing it for the public.” Franck continued, “This is in addition to the fact that we couldn't do our job, which was just taking exterior shots. We lost all our work that day including covering the news conference at Ford. I was appalled by that kind of action.” Franck later stated, “We are looking out for the citizens.”

In addition to the multiple counts in the suit, the Blade is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the US Army from destroying the Blade’s intellectual and other property. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1879 specifically prohibits the Unites States Army from engaging in law enforcement except in time of insurrection or national disaster. There were no natural disasters reported in the vicinity of Lima that day nor has any insurrectionist force targeted the Lima tank plant, Ford facility, or Heinz ketchup plant. It is not clear by what authority the military policemen in question were engaged in a traffic stop on a civilian road in front of a privately owned facility.

The Free Press will continue to cover this and any other story relating to basic freedom of the press. The plaintiff's initial filing can be read below.

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