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Video captures officer questioning activist outside SLC refinery

Published December 21, 2013 8:19 pm

Tesoro • Jesse Fruhwirth has filed a complaint with the police department.
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"...say again why it was why you're stopping me?"

"Yeah. Because this is a critical infrastructure and you're taking pictures of it. Don't know what your purpose is."

Those were the first words exchange between community activist Jesse Fruhwirth and a Salt Lake City police officer in a video Fruhwirth posted Friday. The officer, who was off-duty but in uniform working a second job providing security for the Tesoro refinery, questioned Fruhwirth as he filmed the refinery from public property on Wednesday night, the Salt Lake City Police Department confirmed. The officer took Fruhwirth's information and apparently ran him through police databases before letting him go.

But Fruhwirth has filed a complaint with the police department. In a blog post, he said the officer detained him unlawfully and the detention met the state's definition of kidnapping.

The complaint has been referred to the police department's internal affairs investigators, but a department spokesman on Friday defended the officer, who is identified in the video by her badge number, "Kilo 85."

The spokesman, Detective Dennis McGowan, said there was a power outage at the refinery earlier that night and the officer had assisted Tesoro staff in evacuating non-essential personnel. That, combined with how Fruhwirth was parked half on the road and half off, with no emergency lights flashing and that he was filming late at night, made the officer wonder whether Fruhwirth could have had a role in the power outage, McGowan said.

"We are not only authorized to make the stop, but obligated to investigate under these circumstances," McGowan said.

McGowan pointed out that Fruhwirth appeared to edit the video and wondered aloud whether the remaining footage would better describe the episode. But in the segments Fruhwirth posted, McGowan said, Kilo 85 is polite and professional with Fruhwirth.

The officer may technically have detained Fruhwirth, McGowan acknowledged, but said the officer never told him to stop filming or asked to see the video.

Tesoro has an agreement with the Salt Lake City Police Department to hire off-duty officers to provide security, McGowan said. He said officers know department policies take precedence over the private employer's.

Tesoro spokeswoman Megan Arredondo issued a statement Friday.

"Tesoro's Salt Lake City refinery experienced a weather related power outage," the statement said. "The loss of power to the refinery resulted in flare activity, which occurs as a precautionary measure. All necessary agencies have been notified and we are currently in the process of resuming normal operations.

"Tesoro's Salt Lake City refinery does employ off-duty Salt Lake City Police officers in addition to its regular security staff. Their role is to patrol the perimeter of the refinery, the refinery's tank farm and campus office space for suspicious or illegal activity."

Fruhwirth has worked with campaigns such as Occupy SLC and advocates for better monitoring of law enforcement. In the opening minute of his video, he accuses the Tesoro refinery, at 474 W. 900 North in Salt Lake City, of polluting and committing assault against the public.

At one point in the video, Kilo 85 asks Fruhwirth what recording devices he was using. Fruhwirth says he doesn't have to answer that. The officer says he does.

"This is a homeland security issue because we have issues with people trying to take pictures of what's inside the refinery," the officer says. "So that's why I'm here. The Joint Task Terrorism Force, when I write my report, they're going to look into this."

It appears the officer meant the Salt Lake City Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is comprised of federal and local law enforcement and investigates terrorism and threats to infrastructure. McGowan said the officer is not part of that task force.


Twitter: @natecarlisle






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