Nevada Journalist Tackled By Police While Covering Wildfires Near Reno

Nevada Journalist Tackled By Police While Covering Wildfires Near Reno

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.

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Benicio Murray's picture

Since when did photographers become such a target? Every week there's a new story about a photog being arrested/harassed/assaulted etc simply for trying to document something.
I'd love to know where this negative attitude is coming from, I just dont get it.

Ron van Middendorp's picture

It´s quite simple, Benicio.

Photographers have always been a ´target´ for governments and other institutes that want to control people. We shoot to document, and because of the resulting articles people form their opinions. Control the images and you control the opinion.

How would you form an opinion about something you don´t know?

Ever since the states moto isn't "In god we trust" but "If you see something say something".....

Paranoiac retards... (referring to those who can't tell between a photographer and a terrorist with rocket launcher)

It is harder to decide which is more disturbing, the actual treatment or the knee jerk defense of the treatment by the public.  As the stories pile up, and we have gone past isolated incidents occurring in specific jurisdictions, the pattern of police repression of the free press should be ringing alarms across the nation.  Instead, we bicker between one another while our rights trickle away.  Who are we allowing ourselves to become, and will we recognize ourselves as Americans in twenty years?

Teh Kao's picture

I got verbally abused by cops in Downtown Houston for photographing the building.

Apparently photographing awesome architecture is suspicious behavior?  I don't know.

In houston, if you're not eating fatty-fat-fat-fried over fries, it's suspicious.

Let alone engaging in a creative activity!

With more cameras in peoples hands than ever before comes increased sensitivity to authorized and unauthorized "press" coverage.  Statistically it will continue to increase but I hope that law enforcement is educated more and more.  Laws will change with the increase of stories like this but I hope they change in our favor while still keeping people protected from noobs just trying to get award winning shots while disregarding the safety of others including their own.

Doug Staley's picture

From what I have seem, these actions are taken by a few officers overly aggressive officers and are not systemic. Sometimes a misinformed department head will support the officer. I this particular case, the Photographer appears to have entered the area with Fire Department and Police Chief blessings and the officer in question was wrong. However, being confrontational with an officer always ends up the same way, with handcuffs.

Another troubling trend I see, Firefighters being Photographers instead of Firefighters. I am a 24 year Veteran Firefighter and I have seem many occasions where Firefighters are stopping to take pictures before going to work. My Department has disciplined people for this.

David Arthur's picture

if he really didn't have his I'd and credentials, I'm not surprised they didn't let him in. And he probably did make a fuss about it. And if he continued to enter after he was told to leave, that force may have been neccessary, but we don't know that. The charge of impersonation is stupid. If you are going to cite him, cite him with something he actually did, he was just following directions by wearing the fire protection.

Philip Vukelich's picture

Let's look at the source of this news article. The Reno Gazette-Journal. That just happens to be the same paper the photographer was working for. Do you think they might have a biased slant on the story?

While you have a valid argument Philip on if this incident was reported correctly, I would not get too cynical if a newspaper reports an incident that happened with its photog rather than waiting for some other party to raise the issue.

Amoria's picture

You're right! There must be some giant conspiracy here, I just know it.  

CNN: Photographer in Reno Arrested for unjust reasons. I'm sure we'll see that start getting widely reported in the next few days.... 

Terrence Jerod's picture

This is how I dealt with cops during Occupy Oakland.....they messed with me and I did this!

  the power of  57 seconds of video!