Student’s film seized by campus police; university denies request for incident report

ILLINOIS — Southern Illinois University at Carbondale officials denied a Freedom of Information Act request from a student whose film was seized after photographing an arrest last month.

Matthew Bowie, a junior photojournalism major, requested a copy of the incident report from campus police after an officer demanded that he turn over film from his camera on Sept. 14.

The request was denied because of an ongoing investigation, Bowie said.

Bowie said he plans to write a letter to school officials to ask for an official apology.

“The only thing I ever wanted from this investigation was an apology,” Bowie said. “There was wrong done here and someone should take responsibility.”

School officials also denied a request from James Kelly, a photojournalism professor at the university, regarding the university’s policy on film confiscation.

Kelly said in an e-mail that his request for a policy on film confiscation was denied last Thursday by the university because no such policy exists. The school offered to supply two alternative policies that could apply to the situation, Kelly said.

Bowie said he was riding his bicycle on campus when he saw a campus police officer making an arrest. He stopped and took photographs of the incident. The police officer then demanded his film, threatening him with arrest and school suspension if he refused to comply.

The officer visited Bowie that night, telling him he was an undercover officer and did not want to see his face on the Internet. The officer also told Bowie he could pick up his film the next morning, Bowie said.

The officer was suspended until the end of the investigation, according to the Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper.

Bowie said the film was damaged by light when he reclaimed it.

According to The Southern Illinoisian, a community paper, university officials asked the Illinois inspector general to conduct an independent inquiry into the matter.

Bowie said an investigator from the inspector general’s office told him the results of the investigation would not be released to him when completed.

Deputy Inspector General Gilbert Jimenez said his office is required under Illinois law to maintain confidentiality in all cases.

“I cannot confirm or deny that any investigation is ongoing,” Jimenez said.

Southern Illinois spokeswoman Susan Davis told The Illinoisian she was not aware of a similar incident.

“It’s certainly not been a practice on this campus to interfere with the freedom of the press,” Davis said.

by Kyle McCarthy, SPLC staff writer