Ohio student journalist arrested for taking pictures seeks jury trial

OHIO — This week, an Ohio University student photojournalist who is allergic to horses asked for a jury trial to defend himself against charges stemming from an October incident where a team of mounted police tried to stop him from photographing on public property.

Nicolas Tanner was arrested after emergency personnel tried to force him to stop taking pictures of a person being put in an ambulance across the street from where he was standing. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2012.

Tanner, a graduate student at Ohio University, said he was walking down the street after photographing the university’s Halloween party when he came upon the ambulance and paramedics and decided to photograph the scene. Tanner said the paramedics told him to stop taking pictures and tried to force him away from the scene. Eventually the police were called. They used their horses to “smoosh” Tanner and obstruct his view, prompting an allergic reaction, he said.

Tanner walked farther down the street, until he was about 50 feet away from the scene and near a crowd that had gathered. Tanner walked into the middle of the street to try to take more pictures and was arrested, he said.

Police reports state that Tanner “refused to move out of [the way of emergency personnel]” and “did resist arrest by attempting to flee after attempted arrest.”

Tanner was held for 12 hours and released after posting bond. He is being charged with obstructing official business and resisting arrest, said Athens City Prosecutor James Stanley.

He asked for a jury trial on Wednesday during a pre-trial hearing. A pre-trial hearing is slated for Feb. 12 with a jury selection following on Feb. 14.

“If I care about anything, it’s standing against censorship,” Tanner said. “Nothing is sacred, but if anything is, it’s our right to say and record anything that is within our legal rights.”

Stanley would not comment further on the case, citing its ongoing nature.

Tanner’s attorney, Patrick McGee, said he does not expect the prosecutor’s office to drop the charges, which national journalism organizations, including the Student Press Law Center, have called on Stanley to do.

National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher said he hopes “common sense will prevail at some point in Athens, Ohio” and the charges will be dropped.

Osterreicher said that under Ohio state law, newsgatherers are protected. He said he didn’t believe that could be superseded by local law.

The Ohio Revised Code specifies that “Nothing … shall be construed to limit access or deny information to any news media representative in the lawful exercise of the news media representative’s duties.” The Athens, Ohio, Code of Ordinances does not have such an exception.

Osterreicher sent Athens City Police Chief Thomas Pyle II a letter on Nov. 7 noting those laws and requesting that the charges against Tanner be dropped. Osterreicher also emailed a copy of the letter to Athens Mayor Hon. Paul Wiehl.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.