Police - News photographer was in the way at accident site

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

BERKELEY, Mo. -- A St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer was arrested while shooting pictures at a weekend accident scene because he was in the way of emergency workers, police said Monday. But officials at the newspaper said photographer Gabriel B. Tait was simply doing his job.

Tait, 32, was taking pictures Saturday on Interstate 70 in Berkeley, near St. Louis, where a Ford Explorer had left the road and overturned. Tait said he was in an area with other observers when an officer told him to stop taking pictures and leave, the Post-Dispatch reported Sunday.

Tait said the officer grabbed his camera and pushed him against a vehicle, then handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. He was jailed for a couple of hours before being released on bond, police said. His camera equipment was confiscated and his car was towed.

Berkeley Capt. Frank McCall said Tait refused to get out of the way as paramedics and other emergency workers arrived.

But Arnie Robbins, managing editor of the Post-Dispatch, said Tait did nothing wrong.

"After reviewing the situation, it is clear that our photographer did not interfere with emergency workers in any way whatsoever," Robbins said in a statement. "As a newspaper we have a responsibility and a right to cover matters in the public interest. Gabe Tait was simply doing his job, at a safe and respectful distance from the accident."

Robbins said the police actions "constitute a totally unjustified interference with the right of the news media to do its job. We strongly back our photographer and will vigorously pursue this matter in order to protect the rights of this newspaper and our journalists."

McCall said Tait's camera was taken for safekeeping while he was jailed, and the car was towed because Tait was taken to jail in a squad car.

McCall said police "have no problem with any news agency that wants to take pictures because that's their job. But we do ask they show the common respect to know that you can't be right up on the scene."

Police will seek a municipal misdemeanor charge, but McCall declined to elaborate. A court clerk said Monday that charges had not been filed.

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