INDIANA — An internal investigation into police treatment of a Purdue Exponent photographer found no wrongdoing, but some are questioning the thoroughness of the report.
In the report released today, Purdue Police Chief John Cox wrote that university police acted appropriately when they detained Exponent photographer Michael Takeda and seized his camera in the aftermath of a campus shooting last month.
While Takeda said it didn’t appear that he was in a restricted area, the report claims otherwise. Officers had “reasonable suspicion… that criminal activity may be afoot” because Takeda, according to the report, entered an area that officials believed was secure, didn’t listen to police instructions and tried to flee when approached by officials. In a letter that prompted the investigation, Takeda said he was stopped by police “just inside” the building where the shooting occurred and saw no barriers or other signs barring entry to that location. He also alleged that he was pushed to the ground by police, causing damage to his camera equipment.
The officers “were operating in an extremely high-pressure situation just moments after a violent death,” and the situation was further complicated because it was hard to distinguish Takeda’s cameras against the dark coat he was wearing, according to the report.
Cox also dismissed other allegations of improper police treatment — harassment and use of excessive force — because of “insufficient evidence to confirm or refute” Takeda’s claims.
In a statement, Exponent publisher and general manager Pat Kuhnle takes issue with a number of the findings and said he “unequivocally stand[s] by Michael Takeda and his version of events.”
“Simply put, the police report whitewashes the factual nature of the complaint,” Kuhnle wrote. “That’s a common problem when police investigate police.”
The denial that police pushed Takeda, that he was “released ‘promptly’ after being questioned” and that he tried to run away from officers, among other findings in the report, are all inaccurate, according to Kuhnle. Police also didn’t address Takeda’s allegations about “vulgarities” directed at him during his interactions with police, Kuhnle wrote.
Takeda confirmed Friday that he received the investigation report but declined to comment. Neither Cox nor Schultz could be reached for additional comment.
The report recommends continued media education, to include emphasis on the Privacy Protection Act, as part of annual police training and said Takeda will also be invited to an annual “Citizens Police Academy.” Purdue police will also, with help from the university’s Office of Public Affairs, revive quarterly meetings between the Exponent “to establish and maintain an ongoing constructive dialogue about issues of mutual interest and concern.” (According to Kuhnle, these meetings were initiated after an earlier confrontation between Exponent photographer and campus police but didn’t pan out as planned. Only one occurred, he said.)
And while the report “did not find conclusive proof” that Takeda’s camera equipment was damaged because of police actions, Purdue police agreed to cover an estimated $230 in repairs to the equipment.
The investigation was initiated after Takeda, other Exponent officials and National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey Osterreicher raised concerns with university officials about Takeda’s detention. On Jan. 30, Purdue counsel Steven Schultz confirmed that the university would look into the situation and estimated that the investigation would take about two weeks.
When asked whether any attempt was made to consult security footage of the confrontation between Takeda and police, Purdue spokeswoman Shelley Triol wrote in an email that such material would be “in the hands of the prosecutor” in connection with the homicide investigation related to the shooting.
The investigation involved consultation of “official investigative reports,” interviews with “the officers who responded to the call that day” and Takeda, walkthroughs of the Electrical Engineering building (where the shooting took place) and “an onsite event reconstruction using similar cameras and clothing,” according to the report. The officer who conducted the report won’t be named and the university is treating the investigation as “an internal personnel matter,” Triol said, citing the department policy addressing complaint investigations.
Both Osterreicher and SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte (who assisted the Exponent in retrieving Takeda’s equipment on the day of the shooting) pointed out that the report did not seem to adequately address the decision to continue to hold Takeda and his equipment after it was determined that he wasn’t a threat.
Osterreicher said he was told that the department does not have a formal policy addressing interactions with the media, and he reiterated his willingness to help to develop one. (Triol said via email that police officers receive media training but did not confirm whether a formal media policy exists.)
In any case, Osterreicher said, the situation should be used as a “teachable moment” for both sides.
“Rather than just have Mr. Takeda attend classes to understand what police do, I think it would be helpful for police to also have appropriate training — that NPPA would be happy to assist with — so that police can better understand what journalists do and what rights they have,” Osterreicher said.
And the investigation’s findings were unsurprising, given that it involved police investigating their own department, LoMonte said in a statement. He called for another external investigation to more thoroughly vet the claims of improper treatment.
“Purdue should pay to bring in an independent legal expert to examine what laws may have been broken and what should be done better if any comparable situation happens again,” LoMonte said. “Our concern is less about pointing fingers and looking backward, and more about making sure Purdue acknowledges and learns from what was done wrong.”
This story was updated at 6:10 PM ET. The original story follows:
INDIANA — Purdue police acted appropriately when they detained a student photographer and seized his camera in the aftermath of a campus shooting last month, the university chief of police concluded after an investigation of the incident.
In a report released today — prompted by letters from Purdue Exponent photo editor Michael Takeda, other Exponent officials and National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey Osterreicher — Purdue Police Chief John Cox dismissed allegations of improper police treatment toward Takeda.
Takeda was detained while photographing a January campus shooting. He said he entered a building adjacent to the shooting and was detained by police after walking across a skywalk between the buildings. There were no indications that he was in a restricted area, Takeda said. Police confiscated his cameras and cellphone as well.
“He was detained because of the apprehending officers’ reasonable suspicion, supported by articulable facts, that criminal activity may be afoot based on Mr. Takeda’s entering a building they had thought was secured, not heeding their verbal commands, and attempting to flee from them,” Cox wrote in the report.
Officers’ account of Takeda’s treatment differed substantially from Takeda’s claims, according to the report, and Cox wrote that there was “insufficient evidence to confirm or refute” Takeda’s claims that he was harassed by police officers during his detention and that he was pushed to the ground when initially approached by police.
Takeda also said an officer pointed a stun gun at him before he was detained, but Cox determined that “none of the officers had an electronic control device deployed at any time during the incident.”
The report recommends continued media education, to include emphasis on the Privacy Protection Act, as part of annual police training and said Takeda will also be invited to an annual “Citizens Police Academy.” Purdue police will also, with help from the university’s Office of Public Affairs, revive quarterly meetings between the Exponent “to establish and maintain an ongoing constructive dialogue about issues of mutual interest and concern.” And while the report “did not find conclusive proof” that Takeda’s camera equipment was damaged because of police actions, Purdue police agreed to cover an estimated $230 in repairs to the equipment.
By Casey McDermott, SPLC staff writer. Contact McDermott by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.