A couple of weeks ago agents for North Dakota’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations conducted a raid on a business in the City of Forbes looking for stolen property. During the raid a private citizen, one Margaret Rohrbach, took some photos of the law enforcement officers.
According to a report of the incident in the Fargo Forum, Rohrbach said a BCI officer requested her phone and then deleted pictures of the raid from it.
Previously Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office has refused to release any information about the incident, citing an on-going investigation. Today, though, I got a report of the incident from Stenehjem spokeswoman Liz Brocker.
The full report is below. Here is an excerpt from the report made by a Special Agent Williams dated May 22nd who describes his interaction with Rohrbach.
“He ordered me to give him the phone – what was I going to do?” said Marge Rohrbach of Ellendale, pointing out that the agents conducting what she understood to be a search warrant had bullet-proof vests and guns.
The agent confronted her after she drove away from the shop being searched and back to the Flying H bar and restaurant to pick up her lunch, Rohrbach said. …
She said the agent followed her there and told her if she took any photos of him, she would be in hot water.
She assured him she’d only took shots of the payloader.
He then said it was illegal to take pictures of an officer executing a search warrant, Rohrbach said.
“He said, ‘I need to see your phone – give it to me,’ ” she said.
The law enforcement officer then deleted all of the scenes of the search, then returned her phone, Rohrbach said.
Williams’ description of the incident is also quite a bit different from the audio recording, which you can listen to here. In it, you can clearly hear Williams tell Rohrbach that it’s a felony to photograph law enforcement officers.
But in a June 11th follow up with Rohrbach by Special Agent Arnie Rummell, Rohrbach was told Williams’ claim about it being a felony to record police was wrong. Not only that, Rummel told Rohrbach that Williams’ concern about undercover officers didn’t apply at all.
Here’s an excerpt. Rummels’ report is on the last two pages of the document below:
Rummel’s report goes on to note some disagreement between Rohrbach and Williams as to whether or not pictures were deleted. Rohrbach insists they were. Rummel says Williams denies it. Rummel offers to have Rohrbach’s phone examined to prove whether photos were deleted or not, but Rohrbach declines saying the issue is over in her mind.
Still, Williams doesn’t come out of this looking very good. His mislead Rohrbach about it being illegal to photograph law enforcement officers. He mislead Rohrbach about the presence of undercover officers. And, if we believe Rohrbach, he isn’t being entirely forthcoming about deleting pictures either.
I’ve attempted to get in touch with Rohrbach to comment, but so far my messages haven’t been returned.
Meanwhile, it appears as though the BCI botched possession of the loader as well. As you can read in the reports below, the BCI agents determined that the loader should be given to Pyramid Trucking which is an out of state company, but a judge has ruled that the Dickey County Sheriff’s Department should have kept possession of the loader until the question of whether or not it was stolen is settled.
Photographing law enforcement at work has been a hot-button issue across the nation, with courts tending to side on the side of the right of citizen’s to document law enforcement officers at work as long as they’re not interfering.