Journalism in the Public Interest

Photographer Briefly Detained by Police Near BP’s Texas City Refinery

A photographer taking pictures of a BP Texas refinery for ProPublica was detained by police, a Homeland Security agent and a BP security officer before being released.


Lance Rosenfield/ProPublica

This story is part of an ongoing collaboration between ProPublica and FRONTLINE (PBS).

A photographer taking pictures for our articles about a troubled BP refinery, was detained Friday while shooting pictures in Texas City, Texas.

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that shortly after arriving in town, he was confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. He was released after the police reviewed the pictures he had taken on Friday and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.

The police officer then turned that information over to the BP security guard under what he said was standard procedure, according to Rosenfield.

No charges were filed.

Rosenfield, an experienced freelance photographer, said he was detained shortly after shooting a photograph of a Texas City sign on a public roadway. Rosenfield said he was followed by a BP employee in a truck after taking the picture and blocked by two police cars when he pulled into a gas station.

According to Rosenfield, the officers said they had a right to look at photos taken near secured areas of the refinery, even if they were shot from public property. Rosenfield said he was told he would be "taken in" if he declined to comply. Michael Marr, a BP spokesman, released a statement explaining the company's actions:

"BP Security followed the industry practice that is required by federal law. The photographer was released with his photographs after those photos were viewed by a representative of the Joint Terrorism Task Force who determined that the photographer's actions did not pose a threat to public safety."

Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief of ProPublica, said: "We certainly appreciate the need to secure the nation's refineries. But we're deeply troubled by BP's conduct here, especially when they knew we were working on deadline on critical stories about this very facility. And we see no reason why, if law enforcement needed to review the unpublished photographs, that should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company."

Zachary Adam Cohen

July 2, 2010, 10:09 p.m.

This is a travesty. Now that the spill is off the front pages, we need orgs like PP to be even more aggressive. The fact that BP is working with local police to intimidate press is disgusting but not surprising.

Not sure why DHS’s actions should depend on whether a journalist is working on deadline or not.  Who cares?  I agree with you that DHS should not need to involve BP in the photo review.  You can see a lot more of the refinery on Google maps street view than in your photos!

Karees Oneill

July 2, 2010, 11:56 p.m.

Way to go, my cuz, publicity is everything!

Are we becoming a corporate ran police state?

That law enforcement gets their undies in a bunch every time someone talks a street photograph of a refinery seems ludicrous. There are plenty of satellite images available of such places.

Welcome to the Corporate States of America!  Fascism, called Corporatism by Benito Mussolini, is alive and well and rearing it’s ugly head.

Panos Skoulidas

July 3, 2010, 1:10 p.m.

BP , one of the “7 sisters” that terrorizing the world
by destroying the environment is working hand in hand with local police ... Anyone surprised?
BP side by side with “JTTF”?... detaining photographers, muting the PRESS? BP polluting the world , compromising our kids future is the Ultimate Terrorist…but the question is : why does Texas police is on BP’s side? Why not protecting us? The citizens? After all they are hired and paid by us ( the citizens)... They are our employees… But instead they turned against us, against the press, against free speech , forming an evil alliance with BP… which is a corrupted PRIVATE company that destroys this planet… Make sense?????

Remember when we lived in a free country?

The publication or the photographer should sue for violation of his 1st Amendment rights.

This ain’t East Germany.  It needs stopped and NOW.

Who are these fascist thugs that violate Constitutional rights on behalf of a private, foreign company? It is disgusting, shameful, and unacceptable.

These corporate criminals belong in prison, not making arrests.

To goodgirl:
  Yes, I do remember that time,prior to the Reagonomic “siphon up” policies and the Bushes
“deregulation” years.  In fact, I put my life on the line for the country I once believed in. It was America, land of the free, of, for, and by the people. We were not beholding to the capricious whims of big business.
To Donna:
  Try to tell the truth about what Mussolini said of Corporatism to the average American who doesn’t know the Constitution from the Bill of Rights.  They won’t believe you, because, “it’s just your personal opinion.”  We are in deep trouble when the press cannot do its job in a supposedly free country.

The article says:
“BP Security followed the industry practice that is required by federal law.”

WHAT FEDERAL LAW?  Whenever we are confronted like this, we should be asking the specific code section, buy its number,  that we are allegedly breaking.

How do we know the person representing himself as DHS really is DHS?

I hope the photographer sues….

Darwin Gardypie

July 4, 2010, 9:33 a.m.

I though we lived in a police state you in the United States are millions more strong then Us Canadians yet you allow your government to trample your rights, look at Canada’s example we protested days after the G20 protesters were arrested - your country is asleep and no one seems to care.

just another form of goverment control. the photographer should be happy he didn’t capture anything or we would be hearing of his tragic accident. theres your freedom its do as i say or well ruin your life or kill you depending on there mood.

Simone Merrett

July 4, 2010, 9:51 a.m.

When will this treatment of our mother earth ever end? Screw u who STEAL the earths blood, then sell it off to make riches. It is clearly theft. Theft of her resources, the things that keeps her alive. and us. This needs to stop, now. GO TO HELL BP, RIO TINTO AND THE LIKE. Stop destroying the planet, u have no f***in rights to do so.

a man against government.

July 4, 2010, 10:01 a.m.

i think that it is time that we (americans) need to take back our country, our government does nothing but take our money, raise taxes, take away our rights, and most of all THEY FULL OF CRAP! obama made promises during his campaign to bring troops home, what does he do? he commits thousands of more to go and fight a war that is not even ours. saddam is dead, bin ladin is who knows where, so why can’t our troops come home mr. president? cause your not in charge, that’s why. one last thing, ( i could go on all day when it comes to things like this) why is there NO law in writing that states americans have to pay federal tax on there income? i will pay anyone $100 if you can find and provide legitamate proof that the exist, but you won’t cause it does not exist. ever watch “freedom to facism”? if not i’ll send anyone who wants a copy of it. it’s about a award winning director arron russo tries to find out what the statue that states we have to flie a 1040, and a bunch of other stuff of how corupt our government is. our founding father are rolling in there graves right now watching what is happening to our country, and it’s no wonder sometimes why people hate the american government. WE NEED TO MAKE CHANGES BY WHO WE PUT INTO OFFICE.

Simone Merrett

July 4, 2010, 10:04 a.m.

When will this disgusting treatment of mother earth end? Screw you ppl who STEAL oil. Then create riches from selling it. How can they do this, then have the balls to apply to do it again in other parts of the globe. Killers of life, they need to come down NOW :)

Carolyn Posada

July 4, 2010, 10:07 a.m.

The U.S. is not longer a free country.  If you want a return to freedom, you need to get out from behind the computer, talk to your so-called representatives over and over (since they hear from corporations over and over) and if that does not work, hit the streets.


Welcome to the real world.

We ARE already a Corporatocracy and our rights as individuals are all but gone.  Our government appears to be keeping a tight lid on the mounting evidence concerning future threats to the Gulf of Mexico region from both oil and methane as the result of BP’s spill—not to mention the overall effects of the poisons contained in BP’s so-called dispersants!  My cars, my ATV’s, my furnace, my woodstoves—all are tightly controlled by our government where “dangerous” emissions are concerned, but just look at what’s unfolding in the Gulf region!

Kris Verdugo-Riley

July 4, 2010, 10:35 a.m.

That’s crazy, there was no reason for the security company or the police to do any of that. Anyone who’s read “The Photographer’s Right” knows that the photographer did not have to let them see his photos or go “downtown”.

“If you’re on public property you can photograph anything you like, including private property, no one can come charging out of a business and tell you not to take photos of the building, period. Further, they cannot demand your camera or your digital media or film. Well, they can demand it, but you are under no obligation to give it to them. In fact, only an officer of the law or court can take it from you, and then only with a court order. And if they try or threaten you? They can be charged with theft or coercion, and you may even have civil recourse.” (taken from Andrew Kantor’s article in USATODAY)

BP is really getting out of hand and needs to be reigned in themselves!

So, which part of the Fourth Amendment allows the police or “Homeland Security Agents” to seize and review camera contents without a warrant?

There is a delicate balance between our freedoms and our safety/security.  We never have in our past, nor will we ever have in our future, a 100% democracy.  Could it be that law enforcement is protecting images from landing in the hands of people who intend danger?  The question is:  How MUCH freedom are you willing to give up for the safety of this country. 
I am sickened by the greed and lack of responsibility shown by BP, but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak. 
Just my two cents :)

You no longer live in America. You live in BigGovCorp Inc. DBA as “USA”. Continued fear keeps you captive. Massive civil disobedience is required to prevent the complete transformation of society; that is, if you’re not too busy watching Snooki and The Situation’s shenanigans on “reality” TV. Kindly fly the flag this 4th of July, if you truly understand what it means, only if you accept your responsibility in stopping what is happening with your country, and only if you accept same.

Scott Stellwagen

July 4, 2010, 11:17 a.m.

We should change the name of the country to the Unazi states of america.

Funny how all the comments are about the photography being detained.  HOW ABOUT THE FACT THAT THE POLICE SHARED HIS PRIVATE INFORMATION WITH BP?  i.e. his name, date of birth and Social Security #?  BP has ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT to that information, especially in this case.

this is what youall have wanted. they wamt blood. u been givin! now their takin more and you say stop! NOW! why now? You been lettin em fuck you the last 100 years. nothing new today. just more public. They want your blood. Will you give, or take??????????????????????????????

Taken directly from the Declaration of Independence “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” I think it applies NOW. So what are WE the People going to do about it?

Carmine Muscarella

July 4, 2010, 11:48 a.m.

This is yet another example of the arrogance of the press who feel free to infringe on the human right to own private property without it being invaded by organizations & individuals whose main interest is economic gain.  It was clearly stated that the arrests interferred with publishing deadlines, this was the media’s main concern not freedom of the press or the protection of the American citizenry.

First Amendment? How about the Fourth Amendment?

I understand the need for security, but this was mishandled.

“pose a threat to public safety”?

What has BP done?????

These security procedures are required by federal regulations put into place after 9/11.  You are to report any suspicious activity, whether it be picture taking, unattended baggage, etc. That was no doubt the BP security officer that had to preview the pictures because it may show secured areas of the site. I doubt anyone from DHS would know a thingamajig from a whatzit at a refinery.

“BP Security followed the industry practice that is required by federal law. “
So my question is, can someone tell me what Federal law this Nazi bastard from BP is speaking of. As far as I know this is the United States of America and you are allowed to shoot photos of anything from a public road. I would find a very good lawyer who would work pro bono and sue the crap out of those people. Including the podunk idiot cops who buy into this nonsense. As far as ‘m concerned the terrorists from 9/11 won. They have turned this country into a police state where anything you do can be construed as a security problem when the cops wanna pull that card.

July 4, 2010, 12:56 p.m.

Anything under the guise of “security” will trump the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution For the United States of America!  Ironically, the very instruments by which said power is ordained…

Carolyn Gessner

July 4, 2010, 1:31 p.m.

We need to mobilize…the oil must stop..thank you for being there, stay on it, what can I do???

1st Amendment Anyone?

July 4, 2010, 2 p.m.

Photographers have been harrassed time and time again by similar officials/thugs using similar excuses and it’s always the same story. It’s illegal, we all know that, they know that. No one cares. It still goes on….

Just how many pockets are BP in… who else do they own?

During the latter part of the Bush administration, a French friend living in Houston was visited by a French teenager travelling throughout the states for the summer.  In driving back from the beach in Galveston along the ship channel’s cancer alley, they photographed from the freeway a few of the architectually massive petrochemical plants before heading onto the airport for the visitor’s return flight to France.  Before my friend reached her home, agents of the FBI had stopped by her place and spoken to several neighbors,  My friend was subsequently questioned as though she were an espionage agent but her visitor faired worse in being removed from her NYC flight where she was held incommunicado, strip/body and bag searched w/ all of her flim confiscated which, of course, resulted in her missing her Paris bound flight. She was mortified; she felt raped and vowed never to visit the USA again. 
So much for change we can believe in.

This has to stop, private corporations are detaining, harrasing and threating Americans across the country, while the Courts and theNational media remains silent! British Petroleum is only one of many private corporations overstepping their authority. Wait what authority do they have?
My blogis for private investigators etc. who need to know about their rights:

Ok, now the way I read this article was that the photographer’s personal information was reviewed by police and then handed over to BP and that is standard proceedure? Somehow that seems very suspicious. So if you take pictures of someone doing something wrong they should have access to your personal information? I guess it makes it easier for them to send a couple goons in the middle of the night to come and dispose of you if those pictures ever get out. Not that BP would ever do anything like that, not with them being of such high moral caliber and all.

After many years of service to this country, swearing to protect it from enemies both foreign and domestic,  I have discovered that our nation is no longer ‘by and of the people’ but rather bought and paid for by the large corporations and their banksters .  As long as corporations are allowed to live more than the original five years and have been granted personhood, they will prevail.  It is time for our nation to undergo another revolution to oust the foreign and domestic corporations that have destroyed our nation’‘s government through bribery and other chicanery.. Call,
write your reoresentatives on paper, not email,and join save pour country, our nation.,

Joint Terrorism Task Force who determined that the photographer’s actions did not pose a threat to public safety….. now thats a problem. Vulgar Display of Power… For every action… expect a reaction..

“BP Security followed the industry practice that is required by federal law.”

MY BX meter just registered 100%

This is just nuts.  There’s nothing NEW about this at all.  I’ve been a professional photographer for 30 years and ANYTIME I’ve been around a facility such as a power plant, refinery, chemical plant, dam, even a railroad yard, etc. I EXPECTED to get rousted and detained.  It’s as natural as the sun coming up every day.  A PROFESSIONAL photographer understands this is just one the things that comes with the job.  Now all they want to do is make it all about them!  Police state my a**.  If it WAS someone doing research to do harm, you’d all be screaming about WHERE were the COPS?

Michael Durisseau

July 5, 2010, 2:58 p.m.

As one poster indicated, there is no law.  What does exist, is what’s called a ‘directive’ from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Here is the original document, dated August 3, 2004:

As you can see, it is not a law, but asks owners and operators to report suspicious activity.

There has NOT been a law passed permitting the detainment or arrest of anyone taking photos from any public property.

This isn’t the first time this has happened in TC, and I am personally aware of at least another incident, while a friend and cohort was shooting a spill from a public street.

Read here:

You may need a password…

@ Simone Merrett:

  If you have not been using the earth’s resources, how have you lived up to this point? If you don’t believe in stealing the planet’s resources, then don’t. Shut up or die.

Why the fuss? Mr. Rosenfield could have been a real threat. This is a country where even our own citizens plot destruction to boast their own agenda. I think a professional photographer would realize that photographing an area that has the destructive potential of a nuclear device might bring attention and that when stopped, questioned and documented would not be surprised. In this event (but certainly not all to be determined) I applaud those that acted.

Mr. Lance Rosenfield, if in fact local law enforcement provided your personal information to BP security they are in violation of Federal Law. Under the 1974 Federal Privacy act it is a violation of law for any government agency, including law enforcement agencies to disclose your personally identifiable information regardless of the outcome. I would surly hope you pursue legal action against those responsible.

Additionally, I would further inquire whether the officers in question were on official duty at the time of the stop or were engaged in off duty work, i.e., working for BP (in their off duty time) as private security. If so, the use of official capacity to affect the stop and request the above mentioned information would be very questionable to say the least.

Further, for future reference, I’d recommend that you carry a video cam and record any future events for matter of record. If they request you turn it off, refuse. There is no law against video taping the event. If they insist, request a watch commander or duty sergeant to be present before going any further.

This shows how the Chamber of Commerce and their allies in the political realm, that trickles down to the local cops, and is part of a master plan to curb the freedoms are fathers’ fought and died for. 

Why because like everything else, it’s all about the money and the power that goes with it. 

Legally business writes and shapes the laws that protects them.  You doubt that, try and and file a legitimate suit against your employer for harassment or other wrong doing.

There are abundant and, it seems, an increasing number of examples of police harrassment and detention of citizens photographing or filming in public, including filming of the police themselves.  This is a flashpoint which neatly epitomizes attacks on our freedom and the rise of the unaccountable police state, and is a line of investigation that I’d love to see from ProPublica.

The watchers don’t like being watched.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

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