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

photo

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 Highway 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.

Previous Comments

ID
158548
Comment

Don't mess with Texas.

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2010-07-09T12:44:49-06:00
ID
158550
Comment

What's he whining about? He was taking pictures at night of an oil refinery not a real intelligent thing to do since 9/11. The BP security called the cops,cops called HLS and they question him for doing something suspicious and once they figured out he was legit they all went their merry way. He's fussing because they were doing what they are suppose to be doing, their jobs.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-09T14:20:32-06:00
ID
158554
Comment

Bubba, look at the photos. They were clearly taken on a rainy afternoon with an overcast sky. It certainly wasn't dark. "Night" here could mean simply that it was after 5 p.m. Do you think it's OK for police/FBI to provide your personal information to BP (or any private company) just because some company security guard wants it? Remember, we're not talking about an arrest or conviction record; Rosenfield was just being questioned. Do you really think it's OK for a journalist to be threatened with arrest for not showing his photos? How about arresting journalists for not sharing other information, like notes and interviews? How about threatening contractors with their jobs if they talk to journalists? Just how far down this road of intimidation is OK with you? Sounds to me like you're perfectly OK with sacrificing your freedoms for security. So you should be OK with giving up, say, guns or the right to vote if BP or Homeland Security says so, right? You OK with that?

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2010-07-09T19:29:56-06:00
ID
158555
Comment

Ronni- BP already has my personal info, got a BP card, so the police/FBI wouldn't be telling them anything new. :) Why not threaten him with arrest for not showing the pictures? How else would the cop determine he wasn't a possible threat if he refused to show the pictures? Take his word for it? He had already lied to both policeman when he said "had ONLY taken some pictures of a Texas City SIGN" and "assured him that they were JUST pictures of the city SIGN" when the slide show link clearly shows he took pictures of the refinery without the sign anywhere to be seen in the picture. That pretty much makes his word useless. What freedom did he give up by having to show the pictures? Was just a simple request, he was taking pictures that raised red flags with BP security,the police and Homeland Security, why not show the pictures? Did he have something to hide? Care to show me what part of the Constitution covers the right to engage in suspicious activity and take pictures like the rights to own firearm or vote?

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-10T00:58:58-06:00
ID
158558
Comment

Bubba: Rosenfield's activities were neither inherently threatening nor illegal, despite what BP would like you to believe. And no company can release your personal information from your credit card to authorities without a subpoena. Taking a photograph isn't, in and of itself, a suspicious or illegal activity, even if it's taking a photo of a refinery. There is no law that journalists need turn over or show police photographs they have taken (except perhaps in the case of child pornography, which is clearly not the case here) just because they want it. And there are no laws making it incumbent on a photojournalist to tell police what he or she has taken pictures of, any more than there are laws mandating journalists turn over notes or interviews, or provide the names of informants just because the police (much less private security guards) want them. In addition, no refineries have been the targets of terrorist activities in the U.S. that I'm aware of, so the threat of terrorism is specious at best, a blatant scare tactic at worst. BP has hired security thugs in Texas and on the beaches on the Gulf to keep the press away. So, what do they have to hide? Plenty! In fact, oil refineries inherently pose extreme danger to their employees and nearby communities because they use highly flammable and toxic chemicals like hydrofluoric and sulfuric acid, which don't take terrorist activity to kill; just simple human error. The world has plenty of evidence of refinery "accidents," and a paucity of actual terrorist activity or threats against them. If the U.S. truly wants to reduce terrorist threats against refineries, a logical step would be, perhaps, to begin making the country less oil dependent, but I digress. If refineries truly want to safeguard against terrorist threats, why aren't they developing and using safer technologies? Or, in BPs case, why aren't safety procedures and safe-technology R&D the company's top priority if they're so afraid of terrorism? BP has repeatedly made egregious cost-cutting decisions that have resulted in numerous deaths and wide-spread pollution. Why are you inclined to give a fiddler's fart about what BP wants as opposed to demanding your human rights to know that the company is operating safely? Corporations have no right to demand the kinds of information from private citizens that BP claimed. And journalists are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits infringing on the freedom of the press.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2010-07-10T14:33:42-06:00
ID
158559
Comment

Ronni- BP had nothing to do with determining if Rosenfields activities were suspicious,threating or illegal, Homeland Security and the Justice Dept guidelines and laws make that determination. If you do a little research,(the regulations and laws are really easy to find) you will find that HLS and the Justice Dept both consider taking pictures of refineries and lots of other places a possible terrorist threat to be investigated. And under the HLS act the BP security guard is required by law to report the guy taking pictures and to file a report of the event that includes Rosenfield's info. So quit acting like the big bad oil company BP was picking on the photographer when the guard,the cops and the HLS agent were all just doing their jobs according to the law. I don't consider a photographer a journalist.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-10T16:33:06-06:00
ID
158560
Comment

"I don't consider a photographer a journalist." Haha. Bubba I think you just personally insulfted at least 25% of JFP's staff. I expect a sharp rebuke from Donna. Have you sent a letter of personal apology yet to BP's chairman yet for persecution from American government and press?

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2010-07-11T20:06:22-06:00
ID
158562
Comment

First of all Bubba, there is no law that makes it illegal to photograph a refinery from a public road, and there's no law mandating a BP security guard must report a photographer to police and FBI. That's just a crock. If it was illegal, Rosenfield would have been detained and his camera seized. You know ... break a law, get arrested. Second, I'm not "acting" like anything. I'm stating my points pretty clearly. Why do you keep defending BP after the way they've behaved? This country made some pretty stupid decisions in the wake of 9/11, but making laws against photographers isn't one of them. As to your "opinion" about whether a photographer on assignment is a journalist, well, good for you. Is that supposed to mean something?

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2010-07-11T21:01:26-06:00
ID
158568
Comment

It's not like the journalist was on BP property, or at least nothing was indicated that he was. What a country when simply taking pictures or video from on public property can cause one to be detained.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-07-12T10:42:59-06:00
ID
158572
Comment

Ronni- Care to point out where I said it was illegal for him to take the picture?, I never said it was illegal for him to take pictures of the refinery. But there are some laws against taking pictures of some Military facilities and some of the nuclear power plants. What I did say his(anybody else too) taking picures of the refinerey (and a whole list of other things) is considered to be a suspicious activity and possible threat under HLS guidelines and the Texas Dept of Homeland Security evens list people taking pictures as something to watch for. http://www.texashomelandsecurity.com/beinvolved.html#report "Someone showing unusual interest in utilities, government buildings, historic buildings or similar infrastructure. PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO SOMEONE PHOTOGRAPHING, videotaping, inquiring about security, drawing diagrams or making notes about such facilities." Stopping on the side of the road taking pictures of an refinery is kinda suspicious don't you think? cause it sure ain't art or a tourist attraction. If you read Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/06-9903.htm the regulations set by HLS (Gov't regulations are laws aren't they?) you will find the regulation- "Identify, investigate, REPORT, and maintain records of significant security incidents and suspicious activities in or near the site." So going by the regulations set by Gov't weren't the BP guard,the cops and HLS officer doing what they get paid to do? You keep say his rights under the 1st Amendment were violated, how were they? Did they take his pictures from him? Did they try to stop ProPublica from using the photos? No. The cops asked to see the photos,well in investigating a possible threat, don't you think seeing the photos would be the best way to determine if it was a threat or not. They gave him a choice if the photos are harmless show them, if he didn' want to he could go the police station and they would sort it out there,guess that would mean getting a court order to see the photos. He chose the simple thing, don't see any violation of his 1st Amendment rights. The only thing I see is he was inconvenienced by everyone else doing their jobs. I am not defending BP, could care less about them, I was just commenting on the photographer and ProPublica whinning about nothing(in my opinion), and trying to make out like it was some big conspiracy between BP,cops and Gov't to pick on them, which it's not and having a discussion with you about it. How would you have handled the situation if you had been the BP guard,the cops or the HLS agent? You asked earlier if refineries were terrorist target why hasn't something been done about it, this might answer that. Obama has even wondered the same thing as you. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/energy/6943880.html

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-12T13:09:19-06:00
ID
158573
Comment

Bubba's relentless campaign to discredit his own positions continues. Considering that there has been a Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism since at least 1942, you simply advertise your ignorance by denying the legitimacy of photojournalism. As for which parts of the Constitution protect the journalist in this case, how about the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of the press? It may also touch on the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees due process. Maybe we would take conservative protestations about the Constitution more seriously if you all weren't so selective about honoring it.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-07-12T13:14:17-06:00
ID
158577
Comment

Brian- Actually they have given 2 Pulitzer Prizes for photography each year since 1968. Thank you for pointing out my mistake, I didn't know that it was required to think a photographer was a journalist to not be considered ingorant. You know how much I value your opinion on my intelligence. I'm still not seeing how his 1st Amendment rights were violated. They didn't take the photos from him,they haven't tried to stop ProPublica from publishing them. Which would be a violation of his 1st Amend. rights. They asked to see the pictures, I really don't see how that is violation of his rights.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-12T15:00:22-06:00
ID
158578
Comment

My prediction of Bubba's response: "The Pulitzer Prize committee is manned by radical leftists and I don't care for them. Anything they say is not valid and is motivated by hatred for America. Didn't they give Obama a prize for doing nothing? Shows you how smart they are. I can take pictures all day long too, does that make me a journalist?- BubbaT"

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2010-07-12T15:18:25-06:00
ID
158579
Comment

DrumminD-When did Obama get a Pulitzer Prize?

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-12T15:37:09-06:00
ID
158580
Comment

I'm just saying that no one cares whether you consider photojournalists to be journalists or not. It was a ridiculous thing to say. How would you feel if the police stopped and questioned everyone leaving a gun show? After all, there might be some criminals or even terrorists among the crowd. Now, this wouldn't violate their Second Amendment rights, because their guns wouldn't be taken away. No one would be arrested unless they violated the law. No problem, right? My guess is that you would rightly regard such police intervention as harassment, meant to intimidate people attending gun shows. Whatever legitimate law enforcement purpose might be served by such a practice, it would be far outweighed by the damage done to people's rights. It is the same thing here. These officers (and security guards) held the photographer far longer than was necessary to determine that he was not a terrorist. They should have let him go as soon as they learned he was a journalist. There was no reason to give the BP security guard his name. There was no reason for the FBI officer to come down and yell at the guy. The purpose of these actions was to intimidate and harass the photojournalist. It's part of a pattern of behavior from BP, with the collusion of law enforcement. That's why it's a problem.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-07-12T15:40:48-06:00
ID
158581
Comment

I also have to say, once more, that conservatives should be the most outspoken critics of this sort of harassment. To me, true conservatives are outspoken in their opposition to the Patriot Act and related laws. Although I disagree with Ron Paul on most issues, I do respect the fact that he voted against the Patriot Act and has vocally condemned it. When conservatives rail against big government but salute the Patriot Act, it strikes me as blatant hypocrisy.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2010-07-12T15:44:56-06:00
ID
158582
Comment

Did you insinuate "illegal" Bubba? Let me count the ways ... Homeland Security and the Justice Dept guidelines and laws make that determination. If you do a little research,(the regulations and laws are really easy to find) you will find that HLS and the Justice Dept both consider taking pictures of refineries and lots of other places a possible terrorist threat to be investigated. And under the HLS act the BP security guard is required by law to report the guy taking pictures ... So although you didn't say "photographing a refinery is illegal," you certainly insinuated it at least three times in that post. Let's not split hairs, shall we? Otherwise, what Brian said.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2010-07-12T16:07:44-06:00
ID
158583
Comment

"Thank you for pointing out my mistake, I didn't know that it was required to think a photographer was a journalist to not be considered ingorant.-BubbaT" "Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."- M. Twain Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding. Proverbs 17:28

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2010-07-12T16:10:06-06:00
ID
158584
Comment

Ronni- Got Reading comprehension? Don't see how anyone would think I was insinuting taking picures was illegal from any of my post. To qoute you "Don't put words in my mouth I didn't say"

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-12T16:56:18-06:00
ID
158585
Comment

I'm not putting words in your mouth Bubba. I'm quoting your words. Per your earlier post: Why not threaten him with arrest for not showing the pictures? Because he was not doing anything illegal! It's simply not OK in my world to threaten someone with arrest when they have broken no laws. Prior to the Patriot Act, such behavior would have been totally unacceptable, especially in regard to THE BIGGEST POLLUTER IN NATIONAL HISTORY, responsible for numerous deaths and destruction on a massive scale! But, whatever, Bubba. I know, I just don't have any reading comprehension. Good grief.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2010-07-12T19:11:55-06:00
ID
158586
Comment

That was the point.

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2010-07-12T19:37:10-06:00
ID
158588
Comment

Ronni- We don't live in a world without the Patriot Act anymore and probably never will again. Cops have always threatened to arrest/and arrested people whether they have done anything illegal or not, long before the Patriot Act. Isn't the Dept of Defense the largest polluter in the U.S. putting out almost a 750,000 tons of hazardous waste a year? That's more than the top 3 chemical companies combined. Union Carbide's industrial diaster in India resulted in the deaths to 38000+ people. Has BP surpassed them? But BP being a polluter has nothing to do with the photographer being stop by police. It would have happened if it had been Exxon,Shell,Dupont, or any other industries concider possible terrorist targets whether they are polluters or not. You sure do hate BP.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2010-07-12T20:37:07-06:00
ID
158596
Comment

Wow, Bubba, so because cops have always done it that way, it's OK? That's the kind of logic that has holds oppression in place all over the world. It's logic that keeps bad laws and bad leaders in place, too. I'm not interested in arguing who the biggest polluters are. You go ahead and be right on that. And really, if you think that "hatred" for BP is my motivation for protesting the actions of BP rent-a-cops, you really are beyond reach.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2010-07-14T11:34:28-06:00
ID
158598
Comment

Why not hate BP? Had they had safeguards in place from the beginning, the scope of this disaster would've been far less. Not to say that the explosion and impending spill wouldn't have happened, but at we wouldn't have so many livelihoods threatened the way they are now.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-07-14T12:28:58-06:00

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment