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ProPublica Photographer Detained By Law Enforcement At The Behest Of BP

First Posted: 07/06/10 06:45 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 06:00 PM ET

Obrien And Rosenfield

Here's more on BP's ongoing efforts to harrass journalists in the Gulf Region. Over the weekend, ProPublica filed this report on a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas:

Two weeks before the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the huge, trouble-plagued BP refinery in this coastal town spewed tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies.


The release from the BP facility here began April 6 and lasted 40 days. It stemmed from the company's decision to keep producing and selling gasoline while it attempted repairs on a key piece of equipment, according to BP officials and Texas regulators.

BP says it failed to detect the extent of the emissions for several weeks. It discovered the scope of the problem only after analyzing data from a monitor that measures emissions from a flare 300 feet above the ground that was supposed to incinerate the toxic chemicals.

The company now estimates that 538,000 pounds of chemicals escaped from the refinery while it was replacing the equipment.

This refinery has had a problematic past, including a 2005 explosion that resulted in 15 deaths. It's also been a habitual violator of Texas' air quality laws "which are among the nation's weakest."

For their July 2nd report on the refinery, ProPublica dispatched a photographer, Lance Rosenfield, to shoot pictures. He ended up being "confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security," and briefly detained. The entire episode very closely resembles one that Mother Jones' Mac McClelland reported on a week ago, in which Drew Whelan of the American Birding Association was pulled over and tailed by officials whose identities -- were they acting in an official law enforcement capacity or on behalf of BP? -- were blurred.

Rosenfield spoke to CNN's Soledad O'Brien about what happened. I know I sound like a broken record, but there is simply no end in sight to the overall media clampdown in the Gulf. It is enforced by BP, with the assistance of local law enforcement officials and the approval of the Federal government.

WATCH:



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Last week, Anderson talked about a new federal rule keeping cameras at least 65 feet back from oil booms and response vessels. He's also highlighted BP's efforts of keeping cameras and reporters away, even though top BP officials are now publicly urging openness. "We are not the enemy," he said. Well, tell that to the BP security officer, the local cop, and the man who said he was a Homeland Security agent outside of BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas. They all detained our next guest, Lance Rosenfield, demanded his I.D., and wouldn't let him go until they took a look at the pictures he took. Texas City, you will recall, was the site of a deadly explosion back in 2005, one that some believe shares certain similarities with the Deepwater Horizon blast. Lance Rosenfield, who was taking pictures on behalf of the news organization ProPublica, joins us now. Lance, nice to talk to you. Tell me what happened. You were taking photos outside of that refinery that we just discussed. The police came up to you. What did they say?


LANCE ROSENFIELD, PROPUBLICA PHOTOGRAPHER: Yes. So, I -- after I took the pictures, I drove for about three miles, pulled into a gas station. And I was tailed that entire time by a security truck. When I pulled in, the security truck continued on, the police pulled in, and they asked to see the photographs on my camera. And I said, without a warrant, I don't -- you know, I'm not bound to do that. And they said, well, we can take you in, and you can do it there with Homeland Security, or you can show us now. And I was on deadline, so I showed them the pictures at that time.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I should mention that we're looking at some of the pictures that you took, as you're telling me what happened. So, you show them the pictures, and what happens?

ROSENFIELD: The police basically determined that there was no threatening -- you know, there were no pictures that -- that posed a threat to the refinery. And then he took my information, my personal information. And -- and he -- the police officer was essentially finished at that point. The BP -- the BP security guard showed up at that point and asked me for my personal information, and I declined, because he's a corporate security guard. And he turned to the police officer, who then turned over all my personal information. And I protested. I said I didn't understand under what legal -- what legal grounds he was able to give him my personal information.

O'BRIEN: Well, I'm going to ask you a question about that in a moment. But, first, I just want to tell you what the BP folks said to us when we called. They said this -- quote -- "Normally, if a photographer identifies himself, there's no problem. But he" -- meaning you -- "was an unknown photographer, and our security alerted the authorities." Do you think that the BP folks were doing their job? Do you think they were kind of going overboard? What's your take on it?

ROSENFIELD: No, I mean, I think -- you know, I certainly was taking pictures in the public street of a public sign. But it was near the refinery. I can understand the fact that, if they saw me through their security cameras or whatnot, that they would be interested in why I was taking pictures near the refinery. That part, I don't have a problem with. It was -- what I do have a problem with is why the local police turned over my personal information to -- to the BP officer.

O'BRIEN: And what did he say when you asked him that? Because that to me sort of sounds like the police was acting in coordination with the private security firm hired by BP.

ROSENFIELD: Right.

O'BRIEN: So, when you asked him, what did he say?

ROSENFIELD: He didn't give an answer. He said, well, we can -- we're going to do it anyway, whether you like it or not. And we can call our Homeland Security officer, Tom Robison, to come down here and explain it. But, you know, this is what I'm going to do anyway. And he didn't give me an answer. And then he did call Tom Robison.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Who came down? Eventually, you left town right after the incident. And I know you said you felt somewhat threatened when their homeland security officer came by. Is that why you left town? Is that what happened?

ROSENFIELD: Yes. We -- it seemed to me that the -- the issue was finished with the officer and the security guard. But, then, once Homeland -- this Homeland Security officer came, Tom Robison, it seemed like his only point of being there was to intimidate me. And I realized at that point that I had been there for 24 hours. I had done the bulk of the assignment that I was hired to do. I called my editors, explained what happened. And we all agreed that, for all intents and purposes, the assignment was finished, and it wasn't worth going through more harassment if I were to going to continue the assignment.

O'BRIEN: You have gotten an attorney, though. I think the ACLU -- an ACLU attorney is representing you. What does that mean? You're going to sue?

ROSENFIELD: No, no, no. All I have done is, I have e-mailed the ACLU, but I haven't actually heard back from them yet.

O'BRIEN: So...

ROSENFIELD: The -- the ProPublica's attorney, I did speak to after the incident occurred.

O'BRIEN: You consider it closed, or do you want to pursue it further?

ROSENFIELD: I mean, I would be curious to have a conversation -- I would like to have a conversation with ACLU. I really don't want this happening to -- to other journalists. I mean, I don't think that we deserve to be harassed. I did nothing outside the law. I never entered BP property. And I didn't deserve to be harassed and detained for as long as I was.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, we will keep an eye on what happens with your case, if it does become a case. Lance Rosenfield, thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

ROSENFIELD: Sure. Thanks.

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