Assignment 7

Journalist files claim against Caltrans and CHP

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The Willits News photographer Steve Eberhard

"The Willits News" photographer Steve Eberhard. (Photo courtesy "The Willits News") (KGO Photo)

A newspaper photographer arrested at the site of a controversial freeway construction project has filed a civil claim against Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol.

Steve Eberhard is a photographer for The Willits News in Mendocino County. Eberhard's photos have also appeared on ABC7 News in our coverage of Caltrans' controversial freeway bypass in Willits.

Eberhard was arrested and his cameras were confiscated last July when he tried to cover an early morning protest at the construction site. Caltrans had required the news media be accompanied by an escort at the site. Eberhard said he had telephoned for an escort, but the call was not returned.

Eberhard said he walked up to a CHP officer on the construction site, identified himself and asked to go closer to photograph protesters. As he was talking, Eberhard says another officer came up, handcuffed and arrested him. The CHP said Eberhard refused an order to leave. Eberhard denied that. The Mendocino County District Attorney declined to prosecute.

Eberhard's civil claim says his arrest followed months of threats and intimidation from the CHP. The claim says he was arrested "without a warrant, without reason to believe he violated any law and without any other legal justification."

Neither Caltrans nor CHP officials would comment on Eberhard's claim because they had not seen it yet. At the time of Eberhard's arrest, Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said the requirement for an escort was to "ensure the safety of visitors and workers at the construction site."

James Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association told The Willits News, "This is the kind of behavior that happens in third world countries, not California."

Willits News: Claim filed against CalTrans and CHP for arrest of TWN photographer

Written by Jennifer Olney.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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Tags:
caltrans, mendocino county, traffic, lawsuit, highway 101, assignment 7
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