Purdue Photographer Detention: Censorship or Caution?

A case of police caution or a censorship attempt?

That’s the question I’m pondering in relation to a Purdue Exponent photo editor who police detained for questioning earlier this week.

Michael Takeda was detained and his equipment confiscated after he attempted to photograph the building where a campus shooting occurred earlier in the day.

photographerCody Cousins, 23, is accused of fatally shooting another student at about noon Jan. 21 in the Electrical Engineering building. Cousins was arrested within minutes of the shooting, but the campus remained on lockdown for about an hour.

Photo Editor Takeda went to the building a few minutes after the shooting occurred, hoping to photograph the scene. The building had not been closed off to the public, according to an article on The Exponent Online.

Takeda used a skywalk between buildings to enter the engineering school and take photos, according to a post on the Student Press Law Center website. He was on his way out of the building when he was confronted by police officers with a stun-gun who forced him to the ground and confiscated his cameras, the SPLC reported.

Takeda was put into a West Lafayette Police Department vehicle before being taken to the campus police station for questioning and later release, according to the SPLC. Police gave Takeda back his cell phone, but did not return his cameras.

Takeda told SPLC that police seemed concerned about whether he had taken photos of blood.

SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte, citing the Privacy Protection Act, helped Takeda get his equipment back from campus police. Takeda reported that all of his photos appeared to be on the cameras.

I’ve seen my share of attempts at censorship, but I’m not convinced this was one.

I don’t have an explanation for why the police returned the student’s cell phone and not his cameras. However, I think crazier things could happen following a shooting on campus.

I’m also not sure the student was detained because he was taking photos. It seems clear to me that the student was in a building that still was on lockdown, even if he didn’t see that indicated. It was a building where a shooting had just occurred. I don’t blame the police for being on high alert and stopping anyone they saw, including a student in the crosswalk between buildings.

What do you think? Is this an attempt a censorship, a case of caution by police or both?

Regardless, I am happy that SPLC stepped in and helped the student get his equipment and photos back.

5 comments
TerranceCraft
TerranceCraft

I also have to agree with everyone that the police had every right to stop Takeda once he was seen leaving the building where the shooting had occurred. Although the building may have still been opened to the public, it was still considered on lockdown. How Takeda also went about to take the photos seemed to me that he knew the building was off limits so he had to take extra measures ( walking on a skyline) to make sure he wasn't noticed. I don't think the police was trying to censor anything. A shooting had just occurred at the school so everyone is still on edge. Ethically, I cannot say the police may have forgotten to give Takeda his camera back during that whole ordeal because they may have kept it on purpose. But only the police involved know why they did what they did. In the end, Takeda got his cameras back and none of the photos were tampered with. In many cases, the police have confiscated cameras from journalists before for taking pictures of a crime scene. But my opinion, this was not about censorship but about the police taking the necessary precautions.

WhitneyReinke
WhitneyReinke

I have to agree with you and Jacilyn. The police had every right to stop Takeda when he was leaving the building after he took the photographs. Since the campus was on lockdown, people are not allowed to leave the building, including Takeda. This is a case of campus security and although we give up some rights for national security, I feel like campus security in this case has a similar undertone. I do have to say though that the police did go to far by taking him to the ground instead of questioning him on why he was leaving the building and asking him to stay inside. Unless they presumed that he was the shooter, which I doubt because the shooter was already in custody, then they really had no reason to arrest him and take him in for further questioning. After that, the police did violate the Privacy Protection Act because they confiscated his journalism camera and his phone that had unpublished work. The only exception, according to Monte, is when its a life or death situation which this wasn't because the shooter was already in custody. So the police did not do the right thing, however they were being cautious about the situation at hand and wanted to make sure nothing else happened. 


jmkennedy
jmkennedy

I agree with you that the police were right to stop Takeda. He was coming out of a locked down building, and could easily have been involved in the incident. Sometimes we give up our rights for things we deem as more important. It was definitely one of those situations where safety of the campus was more important, much better to question him than let the shooter loose on the campus. However, after finding out that Takeda wasn't involved, I think the cops did venture into censorship. They were obviously concerned about what he had taken pictures of, and I think they kept his cameras to prevent them from being published, which (as we talked about in class) is prior restraint. I'm glad he got his cameras back. Do you know if any of his images were published anywhere?

profkrg
profkrg moderator

@WhitneyReinke The things the police said and did when they arrested him were absolutely inappropriate. I really don't understand their points there. I guess the officer was angry because he was in the building. I wonder if he will take legal action there.

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profkrg
profkrg moderator

@jmkennedy I'm sure the student newspaper probably published his images in the paper and on their website.


I agree that it was ok for them to detain him, but unacceptable for them to keep his cameras. I wonder if it was a mistake. Sadly, there's no way to know.

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