What police told BBC video journalist Franz Strasser to do Wednesday, as he sought to cover the apprehension of alleged murderer Vester Flanagan, was completely unprecedented in his multi-year career.
Following the on-air murder of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in the Roanoke area, Flanagan reportedly fled the scene, eventually ending up in northern Virginia on I-66 heading east. That is where police caught up with the suspect. After resisting calls to stop his vehicle, Flanagan veered off the road, stopped his car and shot himself.
Strasser, who is Washington, D.C-based, was en route to Roanoke with BBC reporter Tara McKelvey, going in the opposite direction on I-66 when they noticed no oncoming traffic. Then, suddenly ahead, they saw several police cars had converged on a silver vehicle on the other side of the freeway (Flanagan’s rental car).
Strasser pulled his car off into the median about 200 yards away from where the police were, grabbed his camera and began filming. The two quickly realized that they had stumbled upon the Flanagan arrest scene.
Six police officers rushed towards them yelling, “Get back to your car!” according to the Virginian-Pilot.
They followed the instructions, with Strasser seeking first to open his trunk to put his camera away. An officer came up and closed his trunk before he could.
“You’re not going anywhere. Your car is being towed,” the officer told him. “You’re parked illegally.”
The officer then asked about the footage: “What’s on that camera? That could be evidence. We need to seize that.”
He took the camera and sought to view the footage, but could not figure out how it worked. The officer directed Strasser to show it to him. The journalist said that he really needed to get on to Roanoke. The police then instructed him to delete the footage, which he reluctantly did.
The veteran cameraman, who has covered the Sandy Hook shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing and Ferguson, had never heard of such a thing. Sometimes he has been told to stop filming or to move away, but never to erase what he already has.
Strasser wrote on his Facebook page later that day: “Recovered some images of our encounter with the police today. Working on recovering the full video, too.” He noted the officer who ordered him to delete his footage is not shown in the pictures he posted.
Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, told the Virginian-Pilot:
There are narrow circumstances in which police could ask for video footage or obtain it with a search warrant, he said. For instance, if a serious crime was committed and police believe that if they didn’t seize a camera, evidence would be lost or destroyed, they can ask for consent to view the images or get a search warrant, he said.
In this case, the trooper violated the reporter’s First Amendment right to free speech, his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable seizure and his 14th Amendment right not to be deprived of property without due process, Osterreicher said.
“It would seem from that conversation that the trooper was very interested that whatever images (Strasser) had never see the light of day,” he said.
The Daily Sheeple reports that the “National Press Photographer’s Association has requested a formal investigation of the Wednesday incident. Corrine Geller, a representative for the Virginia State Police, says it is investigating the incident. In a tweet to Strasser, she said, ‘VSP is aware of this incident and we are looking into it, as such actions violate VSP policy.’”
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth