Today's edition of "The Law vs. The Photographer" brings us to Reno, Nevada, where 60 year-old Reno Gazette-Journal journalist Tim Dunn was tackled and then cited by police for documenting wildfires on public land near Reno, NV. The offense? Wearing protective clothing, which was apparently seen as an attempt to impersonate firefighters.
Dunn, a 21 year veteran of the Reno Gazette-Journal, had been covering the wildfires which were spreading throughout a Reno suburb. Dunn was dressed in wildfire-specific protective gear, issued by the newspaper, and recommended by the Sierra Front Media Fire Guide, which is published by a cooperative group that includes the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the Nevada Division of Forestry.
Dunn was directed by a police captain to an area that was closer to the fires so he could get the appropriate photographs to cover the story. Upon getting closer to the fires, he was asked by another officer to show his identification. Dunn, who I'm assuming didn't have any ID on him because he had changed into fire-retardant clothing, told the officer this, and was told that he would need to leave the area.
The conversation predictably became heated (no pun intended) and two deputies forced Dunn to the ground and handcuffed him. While there is no video of the incident, Dunn, at 60 years old, said "... I don’t know why they felt they had to take me down. I’m a 60-year-old guy carrying camera equipment.” Dunn noted that the reason the officers gave for his detainment was that he was trying to impersonate firefighters and/or law enforcement officials to get closer to the scene, while wearing the gear that was recommended to him by the local press association.
And I'm inclined to agree with him. I can't imagine any way that Dunn would pose a threat to the officers or firefighters on the scene. As a 21-year veteran photojournalist, I'm sure he knows how to stay out of the way and blend in to get the shot without interfering with the operations at hand. But on the other side of the coin, we don't have any video or direct accounts of what happened or what Dunn said. There could have been some colorful language thrown around or maybe something was lost in translation in the heat of the moment.
According to the Nevada Press Association, "Nevada law states it is the general policy of police to allow reporters with valid identification to pass through police lines into disaster areas after the reporter is made aware of known hazards. However, the reporters’ presence must not interfere with emergency operations, and reporters should be aware of the potential for a citation. " And Dunn did NOT have his ID on him. So I can kind of see how he might not be allowed to pass police lines, but does this really justify the way he was treated? It wasn't a sterile environment or a murder scene, so in my opinion they ought to have let him pass without much of a fuss, granted that he stayed out of the way.
Opinions on the Reno Gazette-Journal's website are, as you would expect, quite heated:
The entire story from the Reno Gazette Journal can be viewed here, which includes a photo of Dunn's face after the incident (which shows how excessive the force must have been). What do you think? Police crossing the line, or were they in the right to tackle and cuff a 60-year-old journalist simply because he didn't have his ID? I understand that there are policies in place for a reason, but this seems to be a clear and simple case of overreaction on the part of the officers on the scene.