Shutter bugged

For 18 months now, Detroit-area photographers Jim West and Jeffrey Sauger having been waiting to have their day in court.

They're still waiting.

Sauger is being charged with criminal trespass, West with failure to disperse. Both are misdemeanor offenses. The two men were arrested while covering a Nazi rally and associated counter-protest in Toledo, Ohio, in December 2005. Sauger was on assignment for the European Pressphoto Agency, and West was working for the magazine Intelligence Report.

Their trial was supposed to begin last week, but a key defense witness was in Germany and the judge hearing the case refused to grant any accommodation that would have allowed him to testify, so the trial was postponed yet again.

News Hits has taken a particular interest in the case because we consider West a colleague — as a freelancer, his fine work has appeared in this rag many times. But we're also watching because it involves an issue we take seriously — press freedom.

In the words of Julie Hurwitz, an attorney representing the two men, here's what the case is all about:

"We believe the evidence will show that these professional journalists were arrested not because they violated the law, but because they were photographing an overly aggressive police response to citizens exercising their fundamental constitutional right to protest. As a result of being arrested, they were prevented from doing their jobs of being the 'eyes of the world,' and fulfilling their roles as an integral part of our communication system by which the public obtains the necessary information to be informed participants in democracy."

About 1,000 cops turned out to keep control of the event, outnumbering Nazis and the protesters by a margin of about 5-1. Toledo officials had made it clear that they wanted a show of force.

West says prosecutors have offered to drop charges if the two men sign waivers stating the arresting officers did nothing wrong. "We won't sign that," says West.

With a long history of covering labor issues, West has been present at some pretty intense confrontations between cops and demonstrators, and there have been times when those clashes got a little "hairy," but until this incident he never had any serious problems with the police. Sauger points out that in 2003 he was able to cover the goings-on in Iraq with less hassle than he experienced in the Buckeye State.

"I was able to get in and out of Iraq without any problem," says Sauger, whose work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. "But I go to frickin' Toledo and have all these problems."

As that great political scientist John Mellencamp once observed, "Ain't that America."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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