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Letter From The Editor: Drop the Charges

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
  • bugsoldchum

    Do they have something to hide? Was the individual who had them arrested simply in a grumpy mood that day? Whatever the reason, this will only bring unwanted attention to this company. Bad move, folks.

  • countryboy

    You don’t belive in property rights?

    • LowGear


      I do believe in property rights. I’m not sure at what altitude those rights end. What’s your guess? Can I look across my fence into my neighbors feed-lot?

    • Well, the Supreme Court has ruled that no one owns the air.

  • Remember, though, that the police did not find the photographer’s assistant on the CAFO owners land. They only have the word of the CAFO employee that they trespassed on to posted land.

    So, no, this is not a slam dunk case, Dan.

  • The Grinch

    You are wrong on this one, Dan. The reputation of the photojournalist has nothing to do with this. Tactics like this are the “Coyote” methods used by the HSUS. If they want to do a story with pictures they need to get the consent of the owner.

    • That’s absurd. Do you even understand the concept of journalism?

      And I would say that the National Geographic isn’t in anyone’s pockets.

  • ethanspapa

    Big Brother protecting something illegal I’m sure. From shady characters that give plenty to those bring charges that run for reelection. How can this troll sleep at night for charges that are arcane and asinine at best. What are they afraid of. We will find out.

    • Douglas Donaldson

      Tresspass laws that prevent someone from drivng onto your property, posted with “no tresspassing” signs, and using your property as a runway are “arcane and asinine at best”?
      You and I live in different worlds.

      • ethanspapa

        No one owns the air. Ever go online and look up an address. You can see everything up close and personal all the way to the back door and the deck you sun bathe on.
        Look, I’m with you on this. I cherish my rights. When the Republicans and Democrats overreacted and passed the Homeland Security and the patriot Acts after 9/11. Supposedly just looking for foreign terrorists, Law enforcement uses it on old ladies who jay walk and run over our civil liberties now. I weep for my country. I didn’t get shot at or sacrifice years of my life in the military for this crap.

        • Douglas Donaldson

          OK – we do live in the same world.

  • McBee

    Born and raised in Kansas…..unfortunately, it seems to have gone off into the land of OZ. Sure glad to be far away now & have no intention of returning like Dorothy and Toto did!

  • Kim M. Larson

    As former Garden City native, I believe the Brookover’s should stand their ground.

  • Douglas Donaldson

    “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” This is a clear case of tresspassing. Their purpose is not relevant. The business of the land owner is also not relevant. Steinmetz should quietly pay up and move on.

    Also, Steinmetz was in violation of FAA requlations for this type of aircraft that prohibit their use for anything other than sport or recreation. Taking pictures on assignment from National Geographic sounds more like business. I would have reported him to the FAA too (but I wouldn’t have expected much reaction).

    • What a load of bunk. There’s no set purpose for flying aircraft. If people want to fly and take photos, they can fly and take photos.

      FAA…how silly.

      • Douglas Donaldson

        I’m not sure just what you consider to be a load of bunk. (but thanks for your response)

        The reference for the regulation is 14 CFR 103.1(b) if you are interested. Here is a link:


        The FAA has differing regulations for operating aircraft depending on the purpose of the flight. A professional aerial photographer, taking pictures of a feedlot, would not be operating for sport or recreation. There is lots of legal precedent for this. The regulations for Steinmetz’s operation that day are clear and he violated a number of them. He isn’t the first guy to do something like this. People were taking pictures from aircraft before the Wright brother’s first flew. Fortunately for him, the FAA isn’t particularly interested in pursuing violators unless there is an accident or a complaint. (I’m certainly not complaining.)

        You and I don’t get to make the rules for flying. Congress gave that authority to the FAA a long time ago. (and they are considerably more restrictive than “if people want to fly and take photos, they can fly and take photos”).

        Again, I’m not sure if you are saying the FAA is silly or if you think I’m silly for mentioning them. Either way, you might be interested to read how they reacted to the use of similar aircraft to guide Whooping Cranes in Operation Migration.


        The amazing thing is that we have as much freedom to fly as we do – that an unlicensed pilot can fly an unlicensed aircraft virtually wherever they want. But that freedom is shrinking and threatened; Steinmetz’s actions here can justify further restrictions on “sport and recreational” flying. Sad.

  • Lawrence

    The people of Kansas are great people, but its governor and many related officials don’t have the slightest interest in Kansas (I am from Kansas). It’s just one of many steps which have been taken by the Republican governor to slowly but surely downgrade the state – educationally and business wise. This state is fast going to the bottom of the heap.