Newspaper publisher Larry Dobson crawled through brush last month to get three photos of Dodge County, Minn., officials investigating the drowning death of a 7-year-old boy, but his newspaper never published the photos. Instead, Dobson, 75, has been thrust into a First Amendment controversy after the sheriff’s office confiscated the memory card from his camera and held onto it for more than a week while Dobson’s actions were scrutinized for possible criminal violations, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The resulting brouhaha has become big news in farm communities west of Rochester, where the publisher of three weeklies and the sheriff have been trading barbs over whose rights may have been trampled in the wake of a small-town tragedy.
In an editorial published July 25, Dobson blasted Sheriff Scott Rose for “spreading lies” and prompting social media attacks aimed at destroying his reputation. “I did nothing wrong, but the sheriff sure did,” Dobson wrote. The sheriff replied with a lengthy rebuttal on the agency’s Facebook page. While saying his office would not charge Dobson, the sheriff maintained that the journalist intruded on a potential crime scene, which was “upsetting to those conducting the highly stressful work of recovering a deceased child, near the child’s family members, while knowing they are being photographed.” The dispute started on July 17, when Dobson traipsed through the woods to get access to a pond where officials were investigating a drowning. The sheriff accused Dobson of “hiding in the brush,” and one of the investigators confronted the journalist.