OHIO — An Ohio University graduate student photojournalist was arrested last week for attempting to take photos at the scene of a medical emergency.
Nicolas Tanner is charged with obstructing and delaying public officials and emergency personal and resisting arrest after Athens police arrived, according to reports from his Oct. 28 arrest.
On his walk home from photographing a Halloween party sponsored by Ohio University, Tanner said he saw an ambulance and an emergency crew outside a house. He stopped in the street to take photos, estimating he was about 20 feet away from paramedics.
“I shot 2 frames, and after shooting, the paramedic in the ambulance told me to stop,” Tanner said.
He said he introduced himself as a freelance journalist to the driver, and the paramedic again told him to stop and asked him to step back to the sidewalk, which he did. Another paramedic came out, told Tanner to stop taking photos and threatened to call the police.
“I explained to them I had the right to be there and the person in the gurney, that I couldn’t even see at that time, didn’t have any expectations of privacy,” Tanner said. “They just didn’t care.”
At this point, Tanner said that he agreed the police should be called to clear the matter up. Within minutes, several mounted officers showed up at the scene, he said.
“It was immediately apparent they were not there to help enforce the law, they were actually there to limit my right to shoot the scene,” Tanner said. “They knocked me over with their horses, to the point where, hours later, I still had an allergic reaction.
“So, they were hitting me with the butts/flanks of the horses, and their heads, knocking me over. At this point I’m on the sidewalk, not even in the street.”
A crowd had formed around the incident by this time. Tanner said that though they were taking photos and video of the incident, the police officers only focused on him.
“I just continued to ask them what law I was breaking, and they continued to not be able to tell me,” Tanner said. “Eventually, an officer got off his horse, dismounted, and he ran at me. I turned and put my hand up. When he reached me, he grabbed my backpack off my back and I put my hands behind my back.”
According to the arresting officer’s report, Tanner was “attempting to photo patient emergency personnel was attempting to care for.” The arrest report says Tanner “refused to move out of their way. Then he resisted after officers moved him to sidewalk and struggled and attempted to flee.” Athens police declined to comment further.
Tanner was held at the Southeast Ohio Regional Jail for 12 hours until his family posted bail.
Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said the charges should be dropped. The NPPA plans to lobby the Athens Municipal Court to have the charges dropped, he said.
“You have to be arrested on a lawful charge,” Osterreicher said. “He was obstructing and delaying a public official by taking photos? I have a real problem with that.”
Osterreicher said that he has seen several cases like this in the past year, including the arrest of photojournalist John Bolger during the Occupy Wall Street protest anniversary, but that this situation is unique.
“What’s interesting is this is the first time I saw a complaint from the officers that he was attempting to take pictures,” Osterreicher said. “Usually, when they’re charged with disorderly conduct, it doesn’t mention taking photos, just that there was disorderly conduct.”
Tanner’s pre-trial date is set for Nov. 13.
By Jordan Bradley, SPLC staff writer. Contact Bradley by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.