An assault on the free press in Dodge County

A publisher of local newspapers in Dodge County — the Star Herald and Byron Review — was covering a news story recently when his camera’s data card was confiscated by a sheriff’s deputy. The data card was taken and hasn’t been returned, the Rochester Post Bulletin says.

“I’m feeling like we really have a problem with law enforcement in Dodge County,” Larry Dobson said.

Dobson said he was at a vantage point at the scene of a drowning search — one that hadn’t been cordoned off by police — when the deputy stopped him and asked for his camera. That’s the point at which he should have said “no, get a warrant.” He didn’t. He hasn’t seen his photos or videos since.

There were 8,000 files on the data card and the sheriff’s department says it’s in the process of copying them.

“Unfortunately this is an open incident right now, so I am unable to comment on it,” Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose wrote in an email to the Post Bulletin. “The incident is currently with the Dodge County Attorney’s Office for review.”

“My concern, if I wanted to duplicate that chip, I would put it in my computer and duplicate it and it would take me approximately two minutes to do that,” Dobson tells the paper. “It is obvious they are doing more than just duplicating it. … Either way, they don’t have any right. They were required to get a search warrant.”

The Post Bulletin ran an editorial condemning the action:

Taking a notebook, camera, film, data card or whatever else from a journalist doing his or her job is a provocative act, against us and against the public. The public depends on reporters and photographers to do their work without fear of intimidation by public officials or confiscation of notes and photos. That’s called First Amendment protection, to gather information and report it.

It’s especially hard to understand why Dodge County authorities chose to do it in this case. The photos have no value in terms of evidence, in Dobson’s view, and if authorities want to challenge that, there’s a proper way to pursue it — in court, not by confiscating photos at the scene.

Nobody’s talking who’s in a position to answer the question about why there’s an overreach of law enforcement into the notes and photos of journalists in Dodge County.

“This is behavior that is way out there,” Mark Afinson, the first amendment attorney who represents Minnesota newspapers and other media. “It imposes on the sheriff’s department a very significant burden to demonstrate the need and necessity for doing so. Nothing I have heard so far comes close to satisfying that burden.”

Meanwhile, the White House yesterday banned a CNN reporter from an open press event because it didn’t like the questions Kaitlin Collins had asked the president earlier.

President Trump recently refused to take questions from another CNN reporter, but Collins was acting as a pool reporter at the White House when she asked Trump about tapes which appear to show the candidate Trump arranging a payoff to a woman. She also asked about the decision not to have Russian boss Vladimir Putin at the White House.

Even Fox News stood against the heavy handed treatment of the free press.

“We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press,” network president Jay Wallace said in a statement.

His own employees never got the memo.