U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent journalist covering pipeline protest arrested, camera seized

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 29, 2017

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Unnecessary use of force?
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
Screenshot via 'Thirst for Justice'

While filming protesters at this pipeline construction site in Minnesota for her documentary, journalist Leana Hosea was arrested and her video camera was seized for two months.

— Screenshot via 'Thirst for Justice'
August 29, 2017

Independent journalist Leana Hosea was arrested while filming a protest at a pipeline construction site in rural Douglas County, Minnesota, on Aug. 29, 2017.

Protesters had gathered at a construction site for Enbridge Energy’s Line 3, where one activist had chained himself to an excavator. Two other activists were standing atop that piece of machinery.

The protesters Hosea was documenting were trying to halt the replacement of an aging segment of the pipeline constructed in the 1960s. Around 390,000 barrels of oil per day flow through Enbridge's Line 3, originating at the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, then stretching across northern Minnesota to the company’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

Hosea was filming from a public road as well as from the side of the road where the excavator was located. When a Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy asked her to move off the side of the road, she complied. “In under 10 seconds I had obeyed their orders,” Hosea told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Footage from the protest is included in Hosea’s 2019 film about clean water, “Thirst for Justice.” The incident in question can be seen at the 2:49 to 3:12 minute mark on the film’s trailer. “You're under arrest, too,” one of the deputies tells her.

Deputies arrested Hosea along with the activists, and even though she informed them she was a journalist, she was still searched and detained. “I was just not recognized as a journalist,” Hosea told the Tracker. “There were five activists and there was me, we were all being lumped together.”

Hosea was charged with one count of disorderly conduct and trespass to land. Two activists faced the same charges, and three others were charged with resisting an officer, disorderly conduct and trespass to land. Hosea posted bond and was released, but her video camera was not returned to her for another two months, rendering her unable to continue work on her film.

On Feb. 12, 2018, Hosea pleaded no contest to the trespass charge and received a $358 fine, according to court records published by the Superior Telegram. The disorderly conduct charge was dismissed. First Amendment lawyer Henry Kaufman represented her on a pro bono basis.

In order to start a journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan’s School of Environment and Sustainability, Hosea, a British citizen, had to leave the country to renew her U.S. visa while the charges were still pending. Due to the charges, she was called into a special interview at the U.S. Embassy. “I was very lucky I got my visa,” she told the Tracker.

Hosea said that the arrest was a “complete overreaction” and the legal process left her feeling intimidated. “As a foreign journalist it made me very nervous,” Hosea said. “I am going to be much more cautious working in America. My status as a journalist didn't mean anything; it was shocking.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].