Purdue Police: We Did Not Harass, Unlawfully Detain or Violate Rights of Student Journalist

In the immediate aftermath of a campus shooting late last month, Purdue University police allegedly “pushed to the ground, verbally abused and threatened” student photographer Hiraku ‘Michael’ Takeda as he was reporting on the scene.

While initially detaining him, Takeda — photo editor of The Purdue Exponent — said “police cursed at him and told him he’d wind up working at McDonald’s.” Officers then held Takeda in custody for two hours and confiscated his cameras, mobile phone and other equipment, apparently preparing to search them until the Student Press Law Center “pointed out that they’d be violating federal law.”

So what did they officially do wrong during those proceedings? Nothing, according to an internal police investigation whose findings were released late last week. Hmm.

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SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte: “I suppose that’s not surprising since the investigation was conducted in-house by people concerned about making sure the college doesn’t get sued. … It’s disappointing that there doesn’t seem to be a single acknowledgment that anyone overstepped or overreached.”

Soon after the incident, Takeda filed a complaint against police alleging “harassment, unwarranted detention and violation of [his] rights.” Regardless of the subsequent investigation’s claim that police were in the right, questions remain: Even amid such a high-tension situation, did officers truly have to treat Takeda with such verbal and physical disrespect? Once they realized he was a student journalist, why did they take away and almost search through his personal and professional equipment? And why did they take him to a police station and hold him for so long?

National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey Osterreicher: “I think that once they determined what he had were cameras, and not a weapon, I’m not sure it was necessary to take him into custody and, certainly, detain him for two hours.”

LoMonte, one more time: “I’m entirely sympathetic to the need to stop, frisk and question a person found near a crime scene in a chaotic atmosphere when someone’s been killed. That’s totally understandable. What’s not understandable was to continue holding Michael for questions after it became apparent that he had no weapons, had no involvement in the crime and was on the scene as a working journalist. That process should have taken minutes, not hours. The report doesn’t adequately address the failure to promptly release him or recognize that it was a mistake to continue questioning someone known to be a journalist.”

One other big question: Shouldn’t this type of investigation be handled by an outside party, not the chief of the very police force at the center of the student’s complaint?

Related

Purdue Student Photographer ‘Slammed to the Ground’ & Held By Police

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