When several hundred Hells Angels roared into Missoula last summer, the people of the Garden City were prepared. The police department had recruited scores of officers from across the country. Motorcycle lovers had arrived in packs to gawk at chrome and leather. And news media, realizing that Missoula might experience some newsworthy interaction, were ready to go. KPAX cameraman Josh Lamke was no exception.
As the sole television news photographer out in the field that night, Lamke videotaped the night’s events from his apartment in the Wilma Building until he heard a report of a woman injured on the corner of Front and Higgins. Duty-driven and eager, he went into the streets to tape the early morning activity.
“I was thinking, ‘I gotta film this. People need to see it,’” Lamke says. But once he got on the street and began filming, he was tackled and arrested by Missoula police officer Dustin Delridge.
Dan Brister, a photographer working with Cold Mountains, Cold Rivers, captured Lamke’s arrest on videotape. His footage shows the arrest: a verbal exchange between Lamke and Delridge, in which Delridge yelled, “Get out! Get out!” Lamke yelled back, “Freedom of the press! Freedom of the press!” Delridge then grabbed at Lamke with a motion that threatened to send the CBS camera crashing down on the concrete. Then Delridge tackled Lamke, charging him with failure to disperse and obstructing an officer.
Last Thursday, nearly 10 months after the incident, Lamke went to trial for those charges. City attorney Judy Wang led the city’s case, putting a half-dozen witnesses on the stand, including a police officer from Utah who was on the scene that night, and who was flown in for the trial with his wife. Testimony for the prosecution claimed that Lamke was approaching Delridge “threateningly.” Although Wang provided the court with the videotape of Lamke’s arrest which documented the behavior of both the cop and the cameraman, she chose not to present it as evidence.
Lamke’s attorney Alan Blakley, however, did. Using the videotape as evidence, he argued that Lamke’s movements could not constitute a threat to the riot-geared police officer and in fact showed that the cameraman was retreating. The jury, after reviewing the clip during a three-hour deliberation, agreed with the defense, finding Lamke not guilty on either charge.
Had he been convicted, Lamke would have faced a maximum of $130 in fines and fees. But Blakley claims the city spent upwards of $25,000 on Lamke’s prosecution. Wang was not available for comment, but at least one of the city’s own mentioned the imbalance of money invested versus money earned. Said Missoula police detective Greg Jacobson, “It’s too bad the city had to spend so much time and money on this.”