Police, store owner apologize after flap with student photojournalists

MICHIGAN — Two photographers assigned to cover a protest on Thursday outside of a local Victoria’s Secret in Meridian Township were given a choice by local police officers: delete the photos or follow police officers back to the police station.

“The police said, ‘Either you delete the pictures or I take the cameras to the station,'” Jill Woodbeck told the Central Michigan Life, the Central Michigan University student newspaper for which she works. “I said, ‘We have every right to have these pictures.'”

“At first I thought, ‘What are they doing?'” said Life Editor in Chief Chad Livengood of the officers’ threat to delete the photos.

Woodbeck and Merissa Ferguson followed the police officers back to the police station. After the officers consulted with superiors, the cameras were released with the pictures fully intact, according an Associated Press article.

“It was not our best police work,” Meridian Township Police Chief David Hall told AP.

Dawn Phillips Hertz, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, intervened on behalf of the photographers, asking police to return the cameras unaltered, Livengood said.

Woodbeck and Ferguson were assigned to cover protests by three Central Michigan students over the use of non-recycled paper in Victoria’s Secret’s catalogs, Livengood said.

Mall security officials and the store’s manager apologized to the newspaper, Livengood said.

“We don’t ever instruct them to take your work,” Anthony Hebron, vice president of external communications for the store’s parent company, Limited Brands, Inc., told the Central Michigan Life. “I don’t want that to happen again.”

Newspaper editors debated whether or not to file larceny charges, but decided against it when officers released the camera unharmed and apologized for the error, Livengood said.

Livengood said he believes the incident infringed upon a journalist’s right to report on the news.

“At the end of the day, government can’t step on our toes and force us to self-censor ourselves because it thinks a corporation doesn’t like what we’re doing,” he said.

by Kyle McCarthy, SPLC staff writer