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ProPublica Photographer: I Was Followed by BP Security and Then Detained by Police

Freelance photographer Lance Rosenfield tells the story of being stopped by police and BP security while he was taking pictures for ProPublica’s articles on BP’s Texas City refinery.

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Lance Rosenfield, a freelance photographer working for ProPublica, was detained by Texas City police and questioned by BP security.

Freelance photographer Lance Rosenfield was working on assignment for ProPublica in Texas City, Texas, last week, when a BP security guard began following him. Rosenfield was later detained by police after taking photos for two ProPublica stories. One revealed that BP’s Texas City refinery had illegally emitted 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air in April and May. The other reported that the Texas City refinery continues to have serious safety violations five years after an explosion at the plant killed 15 workers.

What follows is Rosenfield’s account of what happened on Friday night after the police, accompanied by the BP security guard, stopped him at a local gas station.

I parked my car on the shoulder of Hwy. 197 near the Texas City sign that is in the pictures, on the south side of town and the refinery. I walked onto the median where the sign is and took the pictures. I walked back to my car and drove a couple of miles to a gas station that is on the way to my hotel. I noticed that what looked like a security truck, which had a light on the top, was following me, although he continued on when I pulled into the Valero gas station. I got out of my car to fill the tank and moments later two Texas City police cars pulled in next to my car, essentially blocking me in, although I wasn't trying to go anywhere, I was trying to get gas.

The first police officer asked me what I was doing and said he had gotten a report that I was taking pictures near the refinery. I told him I am a photojournalist and had only taken some pictures of a Texas City sign. He asked to see the pictures and I told him I didn't think I had to show them, legally. Another police officer walked up and again asked to see the pictures. I told him the same thing, but assured him that they were just pictures of the city sign, taken while I was in the public right of way.

He said I could show him the pictures or he could handle this another way, including calling Homeland Security and taking me in. I agreed to show him the pictures on the back of my camera, while he took my driver's license. Meanwhile, the truck that had been following me showed up, driven by a security guard with a BP patch on his uniform. The first police officer seemed to fade back during all this, but remained present in the background. I asked the second police officer-- Officer T. Krietemeyer--for his card, which he gave me. 

Officer Krietemeyer took my name, driver's license, the car license number, my D.O.B., Social Security Number and phone number.

The BP security guard asked for my personal information and I declined because he is a corporate security guard and I had already given it to the police. Then the BP security guard asked Officer Krietemeyer for my information, which he gave him.

I protested and asked on what legal grounds could the police officer share my information with BP? I was never on BP property. They told me it was standard procedure and I told them I didn't agree with it and didn't understand what legal authority they had to share that information.

They said that when there is a Homeland Security threat, then BP files a report. I said I wasn't a Homeland Security threat, that Officer Krietemeyer had already determined that the pictures posed no threat. Also, I was not under arrest, so why was BP getting my information? I asked the BP guard for his information, which he gave me: Gary Stief, BP Security.

They both told me they would call Homeland Security/FBI agent Tom Robison to come down and explain it, as if that were a threat to me. I said I didn't think that was necessary but Officer Krietemeyer called Mr. Robison anyway and handed me the phone, which I didn't ask for, but my natural reaction was to take the phone. They had already spoken to Mr. Robison when they arrived; when he got on the phone he asked what my problem is. I told him I didn't understand why BP was getting my information, but he had it anyway and we were starting to wrap up here. He said, "Oh no you're not, you're staying right there until I get there." This was obviously a scare tactic.

Mr. Robison arrived several minutes later and asked what my problem was. His demeanor was aggressive and antagonistic. I repeated myself, in a respectful manner. He aggressively explained that a refinery like this is a terrorist target and any time people take pictures of it, they have to investigate.

He asked who I was working for. I said I'm a freelance photojournalist working on assignment for ProPublica. He asked for verification of that so I showed him the letter from (ProPublica senior editor) Susan White. Officer Krietemeyer took down the information. Mr. Robison tried to dig at what the article was about, and I stayed mostly vague because I'm not the writer and I didn't see the significance anyway. Eventually he asked if it's about BP and I said yes, which seemed to make him angrier.

I then felt like Mr. Robison and Mr. Stief, the BP guard, started harassing me, primarily by keeping me there and talking to me in an aggressive and antagonistic manner, and relating what I had done to terrorist activity, ignoring what had actually happened. This went on for some time. I stayed calm and polite and on point.

Mr. Robison twice asked Officer Krietemeyer if had he reviewed the pictures carefully and concluded there was no threat, to which Officer Krietemeyer said yes. Mr. Robison seemed to be shaky with adrenaline; he was clearly worked up.

Stief said he was ready to go so the group broke up quickly.

I shook all three men's hands.

I'm guessing the whole thing lasted 20 to 30 minutes.

I could understand (though not agree with) giving your information to Robison as he’s a government official. [The fact that he had no business being involved in the situation given that the police officer had already determined you had not taken pictures of the refinery yet chose to inject himself into it is disturbing.]

Giving your info to the BP guy, though, surely is against some law even in Texas.

If you are guilty of something you attack, so I am feeling that BP is guilty of something that they need to hide. Hmmm, so attack an American citizen exercising his First Amendment rights. In the meantime, on the border of Mexico real terrorist threats are being made to our border police and citizens. Where is Mr. Robison of Homeland Security? Harrassing a photojournalist while turning a blind eye to the real threat on the border.

this is Texas where the local gov is brought to you by greedy tax dodgers and killer petrol companies, i would have made them arrest me and make it a huge public issue call homeland security bring them ill call every major news channel i can think of.
damn i hope rick perry loses he is a huge part of the problem aside form the greedy tax dodgers and killer petrol companies.

Matthew Hartog

July 7, 2010, 11:33 a.m.

We are in a new era of goon squads and Pinkertons. I’m amazed you or anyone is able to keep cool under such circumstances. Has the supreme court ruled on a case involving this sort of harassment? Clearly your rights were violated.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking to a local park to take some photos. A police cruiser went passed me, turned at the next corner and stopped. When I got to the corner, I was questioned about my destination and what I needed a camera for. I live in a fairly small town and this was pretty uncomfortable. I asked if this was usual to be stopping people like this. He said we have to be pretty careful since the 9/11 thing.

The Department of “Homeland” Security is targeting half the US population as extremists so they can expand the Global “War On Terror” and bring it right into the “homeland”.

I respect how Lance handled himself in this situation. It seems to me this was harassment by local and federal authorities. BP clearly has gotten fat and smug on the profits its been making. (Notice i said “its” BP, like all corporations is NOT a person, but a non-living, economic entity without a conscience and devoted principally if not wholly, for profit) It seems BP has too much power in the geographic areas it does business. I believe FIRMLY in a strong military and in the security of our (U.S.) way of life and nation. This was not a nuclear installation. I am not a security expert, but unless they were acting on some type of intelligence regarding a potential imminent attack, I can’t believe we need this level of vigor in defending ourselves. In any case Lance’s rights were violated. He should pursue this. I would never have given up my social security number. I would be furious if that info was given to some idiot security guard working for a depraved corporation. It seems BP has tremendous influence on state and federal agencies. This is a terrible commentary on the state of our democracy.

Just to be sure: Texas City, Texas is in the U.S., right?

Are we headed for a police state?

William Hamilton

July 7, 2010, 1:32 p.m.

The behavior of the police has really changed since 9-11.  A lot of law enforcement officers are in the National Guard and have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as MPs.  The experience in these hostile countries influences their behavior after they return home.  This results in a steady erosion in civil liberties in the practical on the sidewalk sense.  This is an inevitable cost of the wars.  Gasoline is very expensive, but it does appear that Americans will trade every right and freedom they have for something to put in the tanks of their SUVs.

As a verifiable PJ, why didn’t you simply call your editor to have them handle the issue?  I’m sure ProPublica’s legal guys would have liked to have handled this as not only harassment but unlawful detainment.

The most transparent administration ever ....

Henry S. Cole, Ph.D.

July 7, 2010, 3:20 p.m.

Dear Lance,

Thanks for your courageous work and your calm under fire. I am really sorry, you had to go through this.
Information is the life blood of democracy, we need to protect the right of journalists to keep the arteries flowing.

Hank Cole, publisher: Ekos-squared http://ecosquared.wordpress.com/

Valerie KLung

July 7, 2010, 3:24 p.m.

And this is the land of the free, with liberty and justice for all.
I am just an ordinary 79 year old, retired citizen and I am appalled at what goes on these days.

Sounds almost like Nazi Germany. Time for DofJ to investigate the behaviors of these policeman and bp’s security guards.

I don’t think I will ever visit Texas if their cops behave like the brown shirts under hitler.

Three years ago, while volunteering with an annual photographer’s retreat in Wisconsin I took a picture in a public park of the water tower. Imagine my surprize when 3 weeks later, the FBI comes to our house to question my husband (i was at work) as to what were doing in Fontana WI. Unable to remember the town’s name it took him several minutes to make the connection. According to the agents, we were reported by a local citizen as be foreigners taking suspious pictures. It must have been my long skirt (I dislike pants) or our Illinois license plate. Seems any one can report someone to National Homeland Security as a threat.

I’d love to see a follow up article explaining why the local police shared Mr. Rosenfield’s personal information with a BP security guard.

another_photographer

July 7, 2010, 3:31 p.m.

Its too funny how they try to handle the situation when you were doing your job and even if that, EXPOSING THE TRUTH. its sad cause i live next to it and they chased me before becuase i shot a few but oh well. the price of the truth is priceless.

There is alot of meaningless noise on the internet. This is an example of it.

Retired city Cop

July 7, 2010, 3:38 p.m.

That was an illegal detention ,search and sesure. Read the case of Terry vs, Ohio. Also the detention was lengthy and You were not doing anything suspicious. No indication that a crime has been or was about to be commited.. Even after You answered the questions they still detained You, after an officer agreed no threat. Thats call kidnapping when you are being held against your will, They use homeland security to bully inocent citizens and everyone that happens too should report it. You were also there to inform and protect the general public.  I winder why the chief of police hires cops with no knowledge of the law.

Isn’t this what fascism looks like? The state and private industry in collusion, shredding the U.S. constitution to suit their own ends?

Seems awfully sketchy handing over your details like that. It’s a shame that photography is increasingly becoming of a chore nowadays; whether you’re just photographing your coastline or getting shots of London’s (UK) historical buildings.

It’s almost as if we’re now guilty until proven innocent.

Just as the Obama administration has limited journalists’ access to Guantanamo, the Obama administration will limit access to sites associated with BP’s disastrous administration and its petroleum operations.
That the administration (read the Obama Homeland and Justice Departments) colluding with BP should not be a surprise.
It is a surprise that the Obama administration wants to further alienate voters, young people, environmentalists and those affected by BPs activities.
Perhaps, the administration has simply decided to fully capitulate to the corporate interests on the thesis that they’ve already lost the votes of the youth, environmentalists and those affected by the spill.

I’m not surprised in the least. Its all for oil here. The cops probably moon light as BP security

BP’s terrorism is a fait accompli and their recidivist, irresponsible cuttting of crucial corners for profit is an ongoing terrorist threat.  Why then are these and other molopolist Big Oil terrorists protected for their terrorist acts by taxpayer-funded law enforcement whereas what Big Oil clearly perceives as an antagonistic photographer, because he’s trying to do his job about revealing their ongoing terror - is aggressively harrassed and threatened for allegedly compromising the security of fictional terrorist ‘targets’? 

Is not the Gulf Of Mexico, chokeing with the oil of BP’s last known terrorist act, itself been made a vast ‘terrorist target’ that can be set to conflagration by ‘enemy’ terrorists - as indeed BP has been doing in a ‘controlled’ manner which has nevertheless killed untold numbers of sea creatures, all along?

The definition of terrorist seems to shift with the needs of corporate and government exigency and expediency.  That is why real media is barred.

Big Oil is protected, I conclude, because their product is critical to monopolist profiteering and critical for their collegues in the military industrial complex.  Critical for prosecuting their wars, occupational troop contingencies all over the world and the black-ops operations that support them…which are also taxpayer-funded.

BP and government use fear of questionably-suspected foreign terror to justify covering up the truth about the consequences of their concrete terrorist acts against the people and the Earth.

While I understand security is a job that has to be done there does seem to be a big problem with the way the police officer handed over your personal information to another citizen (the fact that he is a security guard is irrelevant because he is not an official agent of the state).

In Canada this would be a crystal clear violation of our privacy laws.  Does Texas, or the Feds have any laws that govern the sharing of personal information from the state to another civilian?

Neil Talbott

July 7, 2010, 4 p.m.

This is scary.  When the government uses Homeland Security as a tool to harass journalists our freedoms are almost gone.

So much for the First Amendment—freedom of speech. Meanwhile anyone can buy a gun, even a no-fly listed person.

What a bunch of disgusting greasy bastards; I mean that literally and figuratively!

Why are these Texans so dedensive-and there sure are alot of them afraid oil and gas money is going away.

Is a police report open to the public? or is it protected by some privacy law?  I’m sure you’ve already looked to see if providing your PII to an individual or corporation is in violation of any privacy laws. 
The information provided to BP (DL#, DoB, & SSN) is all anyone needs to steal your identity. So if it was (legally) provided to BP are they taking the necessary steps to protect your P.I.I. (peronaly identifiable information)  I’d keep an eye out on your credit report now!

Sounds like you handled things just right.  But then, except for giving BP information they shouldn’t have, I think the police and HS guys did just the right thing too.  Perhaps the HS rep needs a less stressful position or some yoga lessons, but all in all it sounds to me exactly how citizen v. anti-terrorism/law enforcement should work.

I can’t express it better than Oliver Stone did last week (June 24, 2010) in his NPR interview on Talk of the Nation:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128084538

“we always end up on the side of corporations, which brings us back to our situation in this country. And, you know, we are beholden to corporations. We are a corporate-governed state. And I - we seem to be fighting. This is an epic, primal struggle. And America, of course, is coming down on the side of the corporations”

Dr. Peter J. H. Walker

July 7, 2010, 4:41 p.m.

I think that Mr. Robinson’s actions may merit a thorough internal investigation by the FBI. So do the actions of the police officers need to be investigated by the Texas Attorney General.

Whenever any official, under the cloak of authority takes any action that tends to have a chilling effect on the media, it must be thoroughly investigated and if determined that the action overstepped the line of REASONABLE NECESSITY, the official should be severely disciplined.

It’s being considered a terrorist threat because they were purposely setting off an explosion to create a diversion from selling to the Royal Dutch Shell so they could hold the rights over the location longer..this is all a set up just like 9-11 was..remember people they want us to follow the bouncing ball. This will eventually turn into a genocide

I am a freelance photojournalist too, and I believe I would have insisted they arrest me before cooperating. What happened here is a clear violation of the First Amendment, and a clear invasion of privacy. For what, pray tell, did they need your Social Security number? If it had been me, I’d be checking with a constitutional lawyer right now.

You have balls of steel Lance. Thank you for doing what you do.

marshall weaver

July 7, 2010, 4:57 p.m.

Big oils welcome to Texas ,When I was a child , we were taught that Russia, KGB, etc.were the big brother, evil doers. These days it seems like everythings changed, we have turned into the problem, with no solutions in sight.

This certainly is NOT the good ole USA I grew up in ... more like “gestapo tactics”.  This is the agenda Obama has triggered with his socialist ideology plan ... OBAMANATION.

Did Tom Robison show a badge? My bet is he’s a BP “Homeland Security” employee, not a federal agent.

I guess we can stop pretending that our true overlords aren’t our Corporate Masters.

Rona;d Treadaway

July 7, 2010, 5:36 p.m.

How far are we away from a police state where even the free press is threatened. They are making the truth look controversial.

Photography is not an act of terrorism.

If it is so dangerous for the public to examine something that we should prohibit them from photographing it, then we should also prohibit them from looking at it.  When something is situated outside in plain view of anyone who passes it on public property, it is utterly ridiculous to prohibit those people who see that thing from remembering it, taking notes about it, describing it to other people, or photographing it.

Instead of calling out BP’s, Texas City Police’s, and U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security’s fear mongering—including the ridiculous notice that Mr.  Rosenfield’s photos were cleared by the Joint Terrorism Task Force before he was released—ProPublica featured a quote from its editor-in-chief saying, “We certainly appreciate the need to secure the nation’s refineries.”  This wasn’t about security.  It was about intimidation.

I am dumbfounded by the fact that in light of police interference with ProPublica’s photographer’s First-Amendment-protected activity, ProPublica staff are o s focused on the idea that the police should have believed the Mr. Rosenfield when he said he was working on a story.  It shouldn’t have mattered what he was working on, or if he was working on anything.

Mr. Rosenfield, did you do anything that would reasonably cause a police officer to suspect you of wrongdoing?  You were under no obligation to speak with them.  I think you should have asked if you were being detained, or if you were free to go.  If the former, you probably should have waited to speak with an attorney.  If the later, you probably should have left.

The ProPublica reporting of this story (and an e-mail from editor-in-chief Paul Steiger to me) has repeatedly focused on the fact that Mr. Rosenfield was working on a story for ProPublica.  It didn’t matter what he was working on, or if he was working at all.  He was simply taking photographs from a public street of something that is in plain view of the public.

Based on ProPublica’s reporting of the incident, it seems that Mr. Rosenfield’s rights were infringed upon, and it seems that Texas City Police and possibly the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security were the perpetrators of that injustice.  But ProPublica have repeatedly glossed over this fact, aiming for the easier target, BP.  Please, ProPublica, go ahead and kick BP while they’re down—it’s probably the least of what they deserve—but please don’t play along with our federal government’s attempts to terrorize us with threats of bogeymen lurking around every corner.

This is America?  Lance should have requested a lawyer.  This shows the ignorance of the officers, BP security and Mr.Robinson.  I hope Lance sues them.

This is a very scary article—especially for those of us who worry about our civil liberties under Homeland Security. I am grateful that Pro Publica was able to publish this.

Bernard Bujold

July 7, 2010, 7:22 p.m.

The great thing is that you were able to told your story in ProPublica but imagine if you were just a freelance photographer. BP would have you put in jail.
The media are very important for the freedom of society and for justice.
Bernard Bujold
http://www.lestudio1.com

Why do you journo’s and photographers always bend over and pull the cheeks wide when you are confronted by the authorities?
It makes me mad.
The only reason why you have to put up with such abominable behaviour from some police and security officers in the first place, is because they know that you will happily comply with unreasonable and unauthorized demands.

Learn your rights and excersize them.
If you actually do this, then your whole community will be safer.

Staying calm and polite is fine; but why shake hands with these pigs?

Well no kidding Mister!
How dare you interfere with our Corporate Socialist masters and their bought and paid for attackdog whores that are protecting us from terrorism…with taxpayers dollars.
I mean, obviously no terrorist could use Google Earth to get those pictures and YOU are a serious threat, uh, to something.
And no doubt, terrorists would need some whiteboy to take photos of this BS in order to do??? Something.
It’s becoming a bit obvious that Corporations are running America and our - evidently - Republican obstructed/controlled Government.
People are talking about throwing the bums out…but, the bums egging them on are worse corporate whores than the incumbents.
What did you expect in Texass? Land of the nuts and a run down trashheap of corporate bootlickersville Paradise wet dreams.
You are lucky you got out alive…you damn terrorist. LOL

Outrageous. What is happening to this country?! I am deeply saddened.