Journalist arrested at Willits Caltrans construction site

July 25, 2013 9:09:20 PM PDT
A newspaper photographer arrested at the site of a controversial freeway construction project has been charged with trespassing and released. Steve Eberhard is a photographer for The Willits News in Mendocino County. Many of Eberhard's photos have appeared on ABC7 News in our coverage of a Caltrans freeway bypass in Willits.

Protesters have repeatedly stopped construction on the freeway over the last few months and there have been more than 30 arrests. There has been ongoing tension between Caltrans and local news media over access to the construction site. Caltrans has required news media be accompanied by an escort. Spokesman Phil Frisbie says this is to "ensure the safety of visitors and workers at the construction site."

Very early Monday morning about ten protesters carrying a large banner walked into the construction area. Two others chained themselves to construction equipment. Eberhard says he telephoned for a Caltrans escort so he could photograph the protest. His call was not returned, so he walked on to the construction site. Eberhard says a California Highway Patrol officer approached him and was ordering him to leave the area. Before Eberhard responded, he says another officer handcuffed him. The CHP claims Eberhard was arrested because he refused to leave. Eberhard denies that. The two protesters who had chained themselves to the equipment were arrested later.

Linda Williams, editor of The Willits News, says the newspaper backs Eberhard completely. She says he followed protocol by attempting to contact an escort, and he was performing his duties for the newspaper within his First Amendment rights.


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