Police Arrest California Photog at Highway Protest

July 31, 2013

If the public can't see it, it didn't happen, right? That seems to be the logic of California officials who arrested a newspaper photographer for covering an environmental protest at the site where a highway overpass was being constructed.

The California Highway Patrol on July 23, 2013, arrested Steve Eberhard, a photojournalist for the biweekly Willits News, allegedly for "trespassing" on the overpass construction site where protesters had chained themselves to construction equipment.

According to the Woodland Daily Democrat, "The CHP, meanwhile, has told protesters that when a journalist shows up, the first arrest will be the media, presumably so that the protests will go undocumented - as if anyone with a smart phone isn't a photographer these days. The CHP has harassed journalists even when they have a Caltrans escort and even when they're in a public right of way near the site."

"Protesters have repeatedly stopped construction on the freeway over the last few months," reports KGO-TV in San Francisco, "and there have been more than 30 arrests. There has been ongoing tension between Caltrans and local news media over access to the construction site." The overpass is in Mendocino County.

Caltrans has limited media access to the site by requiring journalists to have a Caltrans escort. But Caltrans has been reluctant to provide escorts when news is happening. Eberhard called Caltrans asking for an escort on the morning he was arrested, but Caltrans did not return his call.

Eberhard said one CHP officer was ordering him to leave the area, but before Eberhard could comply, another officer handcuffed and arrested him. The CHP say the officers arrested him because he refused to leave, but Eberhard says that is not true.

According to the Woodland Daily Democrat, "The CHP has spent at least $1 million trying to keep protesters off the construction site."