The Toledo Blade filed a lawsuit Friday after two of its employees were unlawfully detained while they were exercising their "full legal and constitutional rights to observe and photograph" from public streets outside a General Dynamics-operated plant.
Named in the suit are several government officials including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Blade reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and Blade photographer Jetta Fraser, who had their media credentials, were shooting stock photos of local area businesses March 28 after completing an assignment in Lima, Ohio.
One of their stops was the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center — a government-owned, General Dynamics-operated tank plant.
The pair passed no sign indicating limited or prohibited access. The lawsuit states:
While lawfully present in a public area at or near this facility, Plaintiffs Jetta Fraser and Tyrel Linkhorn, acting in the employ and on behalf of Plaintiff The Toledo Blade Co., were engaged in the entirely lawful and constitutionally protected conduct of taking photographs of matters that were and are entirely open and visible to the public. Plaintiffs were in fact engaged, and were known to the defendants to be engaged, in this constitutionally protected activity for the purpose of gathering information for possible publication and dissemination to the public through newspapers and others media.
After taking several photographs, Fraser returned to the car to leave with Linkhorn, but the pair was stopped and questioned by armed, military police.
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A military officer told Fraser that her photographing the plant's power supply raised the "suspicion of terrorism."
Fraser and Linkhorn explained the purpose of their visit and photographs, and showed their documentation of employment with the newspaper. The officer demanded Fraser supply her drivers license, but she questioned why as she was not the one driving. She was then ordered out of the car, cuffed, threatened with being groped, and was spoken to "in terms denoting the masculine gender," according to the suit.
In addition to being detained for over an hour, the pair had equipment, including a camera, seized. While the camera was returned hours later, the photographs Fraser had taken of the plant had been removed.
In reporting on the incident, the Blade has noted that what Fraser had taken pictures of can also been seen publicly on Google Earth and Google Street View.
The suit charges that the Fraser and Linkhorn's First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated.
"Welcome to the national security state," Blade columnist Keith C. Burris wrote following the incident, adding, "we are on dangerous and disturbing ground."