Brattleboro Reformer

State: Photographer won't be charged

November 30, 2001

Reformer Staff

BRATTLEBORO -- Trouble over a newspaper photographer's shot of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is not expected to end up in court, the state's attorney said Thursday.

Reformer photographer Jason R. Henske, on assignment for the paper, was detained Wednesday by Vernon Police Chief Randy Wheelock after Yankee security alerted Wheelock to Henske's presence outside the perimeter fence.

Wheelock said he was following the letter of the law -- a 1917 treason statute originally designed to protect railroads after war was declared with Germany -- in questioning Henske.

Asked why he would detain a newspaper photographer known personally to him, Wheelock declined comment.

"September 11 changed things for a lot of folk," he noted. "The statute is clear on what you can and cannot photograph during a time of war."

But Reformer attorney Potter Stewart argued the statute, which covers "any military camp, fort, armory, arsenal, bridge, road, canal, dockyard, telephone or telegraph line or equipment, railway or property of any corporation subject to the supervision of the Public Service Board, or of any municipality or part thereof," is far from clear.

"We live in a time when public security has reached a paramount need," Stewart said in a statement. "But that need does not justify arbitrary enforcement of over-broad and vague laws, for which convictions could not be maintained."

Wheelock said the treason charge, a felony carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, had been referred to the state's attorney's office for possible prosecution.

But State's Attorney Dan Davis said he did not intend to press charges.

"(Wheelock) wrote the incident up and sent it in for review," Davis said. "I've reviewed it and indicated to him there will be no charges based on Jason's activity at the plant on Nov. 28."

However, Davis added, "I would hope the Reformer would do the responsible thing and publish only photos that did not jeopardize the safety of the plant, its employees or the people of the county."

Davis said he was unaware of the 1917 law until an incident in Bellows Falls Oct. 6, when three men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin were questioned by police after taking photographs of the hydro dam.

He said the statute was "intentionally broad," and indicated that he would consider prosecuting a violation that called into question the safety of the plant, its employees or the public.

Noting the heightened state of alert at the plant in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Yankee spokesman Rob Williams said security was simply taking routine precautions in reporting Henske to the police.

"From then on it was a police matter," he said.

Williams said the trouble could have been averted if Henske had informed him that he planned to take photos of the plant.

Henske said he has taken photos at Vermont Yankee on three occasions since Sept. 11, and was on this occasion more removed from the plant and its security operation than previously.

Neither Williams nor Wheelock knew of any other instance of police questioning civilians outside Vermont Yankee since Sept. 11.

But Steven E. Frischling, a free-lance photographer who used to work for the Reformer, said he was detained for two hours and threatened with arrest by Connecticut State Police after photographing the Millstone nuclear plant from a public road Nov. 8.

Wednesday's incident generated considerable interest from national news media and First Amendment groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.