Tim Dunn, photo director for the Reno Gazette-Journal and a 21-year employee there, was taking pictures of a fire in Sun Valley on June 18 when Washoe County sheriff's deputies tackled him, handcuffed him and cited him for obstruction and resisting arrest.
Mr. Dunn said deputies accused him of impersonating a firefighter because he was wearing yellow protective fire gear, a helmet and goggles. But Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, called it "absolutely preposterous" that Mr. Dunn, lugging around a full set of camera equipment, could have been mistaken for a firefighter.
In fact, Mr. Dunn's gear is called for in the 20-page Media Fire Guide published by an interagency coalition that includes the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Division of Forestry and others.
Mr. Dunn said he was asked by a man wearing a T-shirt, later identified as Capt. John Spencer, for his affiliation. After Mr. Dunn responded, the captain told him to go down the hill where other media had been directed. Mr. Dunn said that after he complained the area was too far away for him to take useful photos, Capt. Spencer escorted him down the hill.
The physical confrontation followed.
Beryl Love, Gazette-Journal executive editor, called the deputies' "use of excessive force ... brutal" and "shocking," adding the photographer's "rights were clearly violated."
Members of the media are not immune from the law, of course. In the unlikely event reporters or photographers were actually blocking police or firefighters from reaching the scene or doing their jobs, that would be another matter.
Mr. Smith says the press association intends to support the newspaper in a formal administrative complaint. Good.
Reporters and photographers have their own jobs to do. The public has a right to know what's happening, and how firefighters are conducting themselves - which usually turns out to be good news of tireless courage. But it's outrageous to tackle and handcuff a press photographer in a childish display of force. If anyone were really in danger from this fire, were they safer lying handcuffed on the ground?