Calif. police return confiscated news footage

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Editor’s note: Later on Nov. 5, Alameda County prosecutors said they wouldn’t file charges against Jane Tyska, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, a school district spokesman said Art Michel’s language during the Oct. 31 incident was unacceptable.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Police confiscated video footage on Oct. 31 from an Oakland Tribune photographer who was filming students protesting federal immigration policy.

The newspaper reported that on Nov. 3, the Oakland Police Department returned the videotape confiscated by school-district police during the protest at the Fruitvale BART station.

Tribune employee Jane Tyska was outside the station when she was detained and her tape was taken away by Oakland Unified School District’s police chief, according to the newspaper.

Oakland schools spokesman Troy Flint said on Oct. 31 that Art Michel was escorting the protesters, and that the officer took the footage as evidence that Tyska was interfering with his ability to perform his duties.

He said the incident began when Tyska ran into Michel's patrol car, scratching the vehicle and bending a side mirror.

But Tyska told The Oakland Tribune that Michel's car grazed her as she was walking backwards, videotaping protesters in the middle of the street. Michel then stopped his car, began yelling profanities at her and accused her of hitting his car and inciting a riot, Tyska said.

“I immediately identified myself as a photographer for The Oakland Tribune, showed him my press pass and said I was just doing my job, but he continued yelling and screaming profanities and said he was going to arrest me,” the newspaper reported Tyska as saying.

In his police report, Michel maintained Tyska hit his car while filming and that he detained her for vandalism about 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 31, according to the newspaper. Michel's report states that Tyska was detained for blocking the roadway, inciting a riot and breaking a vehicle.

“Her arm struck my vehicle's right-side view mirror. She yelled something that I could not understand, and the crowd started to yell. I immediately stopped and exited my patrol vehicle to detain Tyska for vandalism and blocking the roadway.”

Tyska was placed in back of a patrol car and released without citation, according to the newspaper.

Flint said authorities could still file charges against Tyska.

The newspaper reported on Nov. 3 that the Alameda County District Attorney's office had not decided whether any charges would be brought against Tyska but had authorized the return of the videotape.

“(Michel) took the tape away not out of spite, but as evidence to document the crime which occurred,” Flint said. “His feeling was he was cutting her a break by not arresting her.”

Police are generally not allowed to seize what they think could be evidence in a future case without a warrant or subpoena, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.

“That just gives police huge powers that they don't have,” he said, calling the incident “very unusual.”

Pete Wevurski, an editor with the newspaper’s parent company, was quoted in the Tribune as saying: “I have spoken at length with Chief Michel about this incident several times since it happened and he has professed regret that the situation ever occurred.”

Wevurski, managing editor of Bay Area News Group-East Bay, which publishes the Tribune, continued: “Even so, we could not ignore what's on the tape because we take freedom of the press very seriously. It conveys the right for journalists to perform their jobs without interference by any government agency.

“With that right comes responsibilities, including an obligation to keep anyone from infringing on that freedom or from being emboldened enough to try. I trust that making this tape available to the public will dissuade others from interfering with the job we do on the public's behalf.”

The newspaper has made the video available online. It advises viewer discretion because of profanity.

Tyska had the video camera running as she was detained. The newspaper reported on the content of the 95-second video:

“On tape, he accuses Tyska of hitting his car, orders her into the patrol car's back seat and at one point accuses her of inciting a riot.

“‘I didn't hit your car,’ Tyska says on the tape. ‘I'm working press.’

”Michel responds ‘No, you're a pain in the a– and you hit my car. Get in the car or I'm going to stuff you in the car.’

“Michel adds ‘You're a lying son of a b—-, you hit my car, I saw you. I was looking right at you when you hit it.’”

The footage ends as Michel reaches for the video camera.

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