Split decision

Oct 3, 2007 at 12:00 am

Metro Detroit photojournalist Jim West is pleased that a Toledo jury last week acquitted him of the misdemeanor offense of failure to disperse while covering a neo-Nazi rally and counterdemonstration in Ohio's holy city nearly two years ago.

But colleague Jeffrey Sauger's conviction of trespassing at the same demonstration quelled any victory celebration.

"It's kind of a sad day for freedom of the press when they target us there for basically doing our jobs," West says. "We get off easy compared to photographers in other places who have been killed ... for doing their jobs. But at the same time, freedom of the press is a really important concept in this country."

A single jury decided the cases in Toledo Municipal Court.

The photographers' Detroit attorney, Julie Hurwitz, called the verdict "outrageous.

"This case goes far beyond these two individual photographers. This case is a serious reflection of the dangers that we now face in this country around the fundamental notions of free press," she says. "It sets a frightening tone for other journalists."

West, of Detroit, was working for the magazine Intelligence Report and Sauger, of Royal Oak, was on assignment for the European Pressphoto Agency. Both were covering the neo-Nazi demonstration, the second in two months in Toledo.

West was arrested after he photographed a group of police officers riding horses toward the crowd. Sauger was arrested about 45 minutes later while standing in a designated media area. He didn't have credentials that had been issued that day by Toledo police but had been told by several officers he had permission to be in the area, Hurwitz says.

Sauger doesn't have a sentencing date yet. He faces up to 30 days in jail and fines.

"I didn't have crazy serious injuries like being beaten or tortured or anything like that. It's not like covering a war and the real danger you find journalists in all around the world every day," he says. "I'm trying to keep it in perspective, but it's about right and wrong and the Constitution."

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