It’s a rare Sunday that I think I might be able to settle something, right here and right now.
An interesting incident occurred recently, mostly in the skies over Kansas near Garden City. A famous National Geographic photographer was taking pictures of a Brookover Feed Yard from a paraglider. He was swirling around it, reportedly not going directly over the many cattle. His instructor was on the ground, waiting by the SUV the pair uses to haul their mini aircraft around.
When photographer George Steinmetz, 55, of Glenn Ridge, NJ returned to earth, the Finney County Sheriff’s Department arrested both him and his instructor, 39-year-old Wei Zhang of Beijing, China. The pair was charged, booked into the county jail, and released on $270 bond each, all in quick succession on June 28.
The arrests reportedly came at the request of Brookover management.
The pair have since moved on from Kansas, but were charged July 11 by Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier, who has gone out of her way to make it clear issues of using the airspace and taking photographers are not in play in this case.
In other words, Steinmetz and Zhang are charged with simple Class B misdemeanor trespass. Where their butts were on the ground was “posted” and the property owner has the right to press trespass charges.
This is all good. There were early reports that Kansas was using its 1990-era “ag-gag” law to bring down a world famous photographer to prevent him from either flying or taking pictures. There was even talk of breaches in “food security.”
But, no, this is simple trespass case with a simple solution.
Brookover needs to drop the charges. I think this family-owned company that reportedly feeds more cattle than anyone else on the planet is big enough to do that.
I don’t even think Kansas’s tourism officials need to get involved to explain that you cannot buy with gold the value of a photojournalism story by George Steinmetz in National Geographic.
Instead I am going to forward this column to Earl Brookover, Jr., managing partner of Brookover Feed Lots Inc., and to Ty Brookover, manager of operations. I am asking the Brookovers to call the County Attorney and drop the charges.
Steinmetz and Zhang have hired Garden City attorney Lucille Douglas to defend them in the misdemeanor proceedings. Still, I’d bet the county attorney would win a conviction on simple trespass charges if this goes forward.
Convicting photojournalists of trespass is going to give Kansas farming and ranching a black eye. And will be like giving a cowboy a silver belt buckle for Steinmetz and Zhang. Hey when your last assigned was dealing warlords in northern Africa, what’s a B misdemeanor in Kansas—other than a trophy.
The Brookover have been feeding cattle for more than 60 years, and probably did not get where they are at by being pushovers. But what we’ve learned about Steinmetz and Zhang’s work in Kansas shows they were asking around for permission and at Garden City, they may have moved their vehicle at least once thinking they had found an area that was open to them.
But the reason the Brookovers should drop the charges is pretty simple. This is the kind of publicity nobody needs. Earl and Ty, make the call.© Food Safety News