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United States11 October 2007

Freelance photographer convicted of criminal trespassing

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about photographer Jeffrey Sauger, who was convicted on September 28 of criminal trespassing while covering a neo-Nazi demonstration in 2005. "We call upon the court to reconsider its decision and to approve the post-trial motion for acquittal in Sauger’s case," stated the organization. "We welcome the court’s decision to drop charges against two other photojournalists. Nevertheless, we are shocked that members of the media were arrested in a public area while simply doing their jobs."

On December 10, 2005, the city of Toledo assigned the media a designated area from which to cover a neo-Nazi protest. On that day, the media was confined to that area. Before the neo-Nazi rally began, reporters, photographers and curious onlookers approached an anti-Nazi crowd gathering nearby, at which point the police responded with random arrests, which included accredited photographers Jim West, Sauger, and Jeff Willis. At the time, West was working as a stringer for the Intelligence Report, and Sauger was with the European Press Photo Agency. Willis, a photographer and writer for The Toledo Blade, was arrested first, before the rally started, according to a witness.

"This is outrageous," Julia Hurwitz, a lawyer for Sauger and West, said of the court decision to convict Sauger. Hurwitz explained on behalf of her client that before the rally started, Sauger had asked several police officers if he needed a press pass, but, like Willis, he did not get a direct answer. Eventually, one of the officers told him not to worry about it. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also quoted Hurwitz as saying, "We believe the evidence will show that these professional journalists were arrested not because they violated the law, but because they were photographing an overly aggressive police response to citizens exercising their fundamental constitutional rights to protest." Hurwitz further reported, "[There is] video footage which shows the ’Media Area’ with several folks without ’media passes’ walking in and out of the Media Area."

"The officers contradicted themselves," Hurwitz added. "One officer was saying Sauger did not have a press pass, while another said that they had not even asked him for his credentials. She also stated in an email to Reporters Without Borders that, "the judge refused to instruct the jury on the 1st Amendment constitutional rights of news gatherers, and even though the jury acquitted Jim West of the charge of ’failure to disperse,’ (because the prosecutor simply could not prove the elements of that charge), they convicted Jeffrey Sauger of ’criminal trespass,’ for being a media person standing in the Media Area photographing a bunch of overzealous mounted police officers riding their horses into the crowd, from more than 50 feet away, after being targeted by 2 undercover police officers."

According to David Holthouse, Associate Editor for the Intelligence Report and a witness to this case, "The police just arrested [Willis] for, well, for no reason that I could see."

In the meantime, Hurwitz will submit a post-trial motion for acquittal on Friday, October 12, in the hope that Sauger will be found innocent and an appeal will not be necessary.

Reporters Without Borders has also been seeking comments from the Toledo Police Department, as well as the courthouse, so far without success.

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