Milwaukee NNS reporter arrested after taking photos of police squad cars in district lot https://t.co/QgjM2UIvQf— margaret rozga (@mvroz) August 8, 2018
A journalist in Milwaukee said that he was arrested and cited a ticket simply for taking pictures of police vehicles in a parking lot.
An award-winning Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reporter, who has been with the company since 2011, was finishing up an article he was working on. Edgar Mendez simply needed some stock photos of police vehicles for his story on police response times.
He decided to take pictures of the police vehicles where they were typically parked when not in use — in an accessible parking lot within a police station at the District 2 precinct.
According to Mendez, an officer not in uniform but with a visible badge stopped him and asked what he was doing. Mendez explained he was a reporter simply taking pictures. That officer allowed him to continue snapping the photos.
However, a second officer came out to observe the Latino reporter a few minutes later. Mendez did the responsible thing, waving to the officer cordially before finishing up, hopping into his vehicle, and driving away.
The entire ordeal lasted about five minutes, according to the reporter. But after traveling a few blocks away from the precinct, Mendez was pulled over by a police vehicle and asked what he was doing in the lot. He explained why he needed the pictures, after which the officer pulling him over asked him if he had seen the “no trespassing sign” in the lot.
“I had a bad feeling about the situation but nonetheless never expected what happened next,” Mendez said.
Mendez told the officer that he wouldn’t have taken pictures had he seen the sign. The officer asked for his license, and another police vehicle showed up on the scene. The two cited Mendez with a $181 ticket for trespassing and brought him back to the station for questioning, including being sent to an interrogation room.
Mendez asked if he needed a lawyer, after which one of the officers said that requesting one would probably end up with him sitting in a county jail.
In the end, officers forced Mendez to show them the photographs from his camera, telling him he needed to delete three of them because they included the personal vehicles of officers within them. (Mendez contended that he “didn’t see them” while reviewing the photos himself.) He was released later that afternoon, about two hours after he was initially arrested.
Infringements upon the rights of a free press in this country are heating up, but it’s not just the president of the United States who is making things hard for journalists. In many communities across the country, members of the press are getting arrested simply for doing their jobs.
Mendez and other journalists are meant to be protected by the First Amendment's freedom of the press. But if this pattern of harassing and arresting journalists continues, the Constitutional provision protecting these rights may soon become nothing more than a fancy set of words we used to cherish.
Banner/thumbnail image credit: Cliff/Flickr