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Waiting for Answers 

 

We want to give readers an update on an incident that happened Feb. 22 in the parking lot of the Humboldt County Library, reported in last week's paper, especially since it has become the topic of much discussion on the Journal website and in this week's letters to the editor.

Journal Editor Carrie Peyton Dahlberg was returning books that day when she came upon a crime scene. It was well after a suspect was in custody, cuffed and in the patrol car. Three officers were searching a vehicle and pawing through several large garbage bags of, possibly, pot. There appeared to be no imminent danger. There was no police caution tape and officers were allowing other library patrons to come and go. Carrie pulled out her cell phone camera and went to work. It was then a Eureka police officer told her, "No photos" -- which she took as an order. 

Carrie, who had worked as a reporter and editor for the Sacramento Bee for 23 years before moving to Humboldt, knows it is perfectly legal to take any picture in any public place -- as a reporter or a member of the public -- so she began to protest. It escalated from there. She was ordered to step back and she was threatened with arrest for interfering with an investigation. When she requested the names and ranks of the officers to file a complaint, she was initially met with refusal -- in the form of silence. Later, she announced she was going to move in close enough to read their name badges. Eventually one officer complied with her request for identification in what can be described as a sarcastic, demeaning and unprofessional manner.

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, Carrie filed a formal complaint. Police were video recording the incident -- we've requested a copy -- and there is an internal police investigation in progress. We should know those results soon and what actions the city will take.

We know what actions we'd like the city to take. Whichever officer told a reporter, "No photos," needs further training. ("Step back" is OK; "No photos" is not OK.) We've requested information on what regular training EPD officers receive on handling photography at a crime scene, and we will have a follow-up story soon.

There's also the matter of bullying and intimidation. If you don't get it, pretend you're 5'1" and female. You're facing three large, physically fit, far younger men -- all in uniform, with badges, carrying weapons. One of them tells you not to take photos. Another orders you to step back, threatening you with arrest. He refuses to comply when you first ask his name.

Because they are big, strong and are wearing a uniform, and they speak in a commanding, authoritative voice -- that doesn't mean they are right. The officers involved need to be reminded of the law, have Carrie's complaint placed in their personnel folders and most importantly -- get some retraining on how to treat members of the public and the press.

And an apology would be nice.

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Judy Hodgson

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Judy Hodgson is the publisher of the North Coast Journal.

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