July 15th, 2013

Hearing Set in Arrest of Aerial Photographer George Steinmetz

© National Geographic/Photo by George Steinmetz. A recent cover story for National Geographic shot by George Steinmetz.

© National Geographic/Photo by George Steinmetz. A recent cover story for National Geographic shot by George Steinmetz.

George Steinmetz, the National Geographic contributor known for the landscapes he captures from a motorized paraglider, faces a court hearing in Kansas this Thursday following his arrest on June 28 for criminal trespass after he flew over a cattle feedlot in Finney County, Kansas.

The Hutchinson News of Hutchinson. Kansas, reported last week that paragliding instructor Wei Zhang, who was waiting for Steinmetz by a parked SUV, was also arrested. Steinmetz and Zhang were held in jail for about five hours. They were released after paying a $270 bond.

Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue told the newspaper Steinmetz and Zhang did not have permission to be on the cattle ranch. A feedlot employee had contacted the sheriff’s office after seeing Steinmetz taking photos of the ranch from the air. The employee also reported “an unknown vehicle” on the property.

Steinmetz and Zhang had moved by the time officers arrived, the paper reports, but “feedlot executives” wanted them arrested.

Although a Finney County attorney said in a statement that the charges are not about Steinmetz’s right to take pictures, Kansas and other states have criminalized unauthorized photography of farming operations. Under the Kansas law, it is illegal for a person to enter an animal facility that is not open to the public to take pictures or video.

Agri-business interests have lobbied for such laws to stop negative publicity about factory farming by PETA, a leading animal rights organization, and other groups.

Steinmetz was on assignment for National Geographic, shooting a story on food, at the time of his arrest. “National Geographic intends to provide counsel for George and his assistant in defense of the charges,” a National Geographic spokesperson says.

An attorney for the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA), a lobbying group for cattle ranchers, told the Hutchinson News that Steinmetz’s arrest was a reminder to his organization’s members to be alert to “unauthorized and suspicious activity.” “Everyone knows safe food starts with healthy animals,” the KLA attorney said. “We have to have those animals healthy in order to produce a safe food supply.”
–David Walker

Update July 18: At a scheduling hearing held today, a Finney County court judge set another hearing on August 29, 2013 for Steinmetz and Zhang. A local attorney hired by National Geographic to represent them appeared on their behalf at today’s hearing, a spokesperson for the publisher told PDN.

Related articles
Agribusiness Pressing States to Criminalize Photographs of Farms

PDN Photo of the Day: George Steinmetz, Up in the Air