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Reporter Arrested With Camera Drone Outside Louisiana Prison

A journalist was arrested for allegedly trespassing on prison property over the weekend in Louisiana with a camera drone in his possession.

James West, a senior producer at Mother Jones, was arrested Friday and released Saturday, but so far, neither he nor the publication has publicly mentioned the arrest.

A local news site, however, posted about it today, basing its report from the Winn Parish Sheriff’s Office.

According to the Winn Parish Enterprise:

A reporter for a San Francisco-based international publication was arrested in Winn Parish over the weekend for trespassing on Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) property in Gum Springs.

Thirty-three year-old James West, originally from Australia, but who had been staying in an apartment on Sibley Lake in Natchitoches, spent the night in the Winn Parish Jail following his arrest on Friday, March 13. The only identification in West’s possession was an Australian driver’s license, and he was driving a rented car with Texas license plates.

Guards at the Winn Parish Correctional Center saw the light from his cell phone, but he drove off in his car when he saw them approach. The Winn Parish Sheriff’s Office was contacted, and he was pulled over after they set up a perimeter around the grounds.

His license noted an address in New South Wales, Australia, but it is believed that he was here on assignment from New York.

He reportedly had a camera-carrying drone in his possession.

West has not yet responded to an email from PINAC seeking comment, but he apparently has been on his Twitter page because one of his recent tweets was deleted in the last hour or so.

Janes West

Not that it was anything damaging towards him or revealing about his arrest. Just that he has a tendency to lose memory card readers, something that many of us can relate to.

As mentioned in the above excerpt, the Winn Parish Correctional Center is owned by Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country.

Two years ago, PINAC correspondent Jeff Gray had his camera snatched by a warden of one its prisons in North Florida, even though Gray was standing on public property.

Last Tuesday, three days before his arrest, West tweeted that he had just purchased a drone, but did not mention that he had planned to fly it over a prison, which would make for some interesting footage.

James West

The trespassing law in Florida requires the owner of the property or somebody with authority to speak on behalf of the owner to order a person off the property before an arrest can be made. A no trespassing sign can also serve as a warning.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case under Louisiana law, unless I am missing something.

A few days before his arrest, West’s car had gotten stuck in the woods behind the prison and had to rely on a wrecker to pull his vehicle out, so he wasn’t having the best week.

But nowhere in the above news report does it state that they had warned him to stay off the property.

UPDATED: A news site called Cenlamar reported some interesting news about the purported job assignment at the prison.

Thirty-three year-old James West, originally from Australia, but who had been staying in an apartment on Sibley Lake in Natchitoches, spent the night in the Winn Parish Jail following his arrest on Friday, March 13. The only identification in West’s possession was an Australian driver’s license, and he was driving a rented car with Texas license plates.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Later this afternoon, Crain updated his initial report, revealing that, allegedly, another reporter and contributor to Mother Jones, had been working inside of the private prison, which is owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), since December. Quoting:

[Update; 2/17/15, 3:46 p.m.] It has been revealed that a CCA employee who did not appear for work on Monday morning following this arrest officially resigned this morning. The employee is believed to also have been a reporter for the Mother Jones newsmagazine. The Enterprise has been contacted by CCA’s main office in Nashville, TN., but an official statement from them has not been released.

Although Crain’s update did not reveal the name of the other reporter, he is believed to be Shane Bauer.

In 2009, Bauer was one of three Americans hikers who were detained by Iran, which alleged that the three were spies. Bauer’s 26-month long detention in Iranian prison set off an international diplomatic firestorm and became the subject of intense media coverage. Although he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison, he was released after the Sultan of Oman arranged a half a million dollar payment, whisking him out of Iran in a private jet.

Now the Washington Post is weighing in on the situation, reiterating the above report that Mother Jones had a reporter working as a guard in the prison, who resigned this week.

Mother Jones magazine has some issues surrounding a Louisiana prison.

On Friday night, sheriff’s deputies from Winn Parish, La., arrested reporter James West for trespassing at an area prison and discovered a camera-equipped drone among the reporter’s belongings. And early this week, an employee of the prison resigned his position in the aftermath of the arrest and was called an “operative” of Mother Jones by Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. “He was working as as guard,” said Jordan.

Jordan identified the now-former prison employee as Shane Bauer, who is a senior reporter at Mother Jones, according to the magazine’s Web site. Bauer has a compelling background: In 2009, he was detained while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border and went on to spend 26 months in the isolation ward of Iran’s infamous Evin Prison. “We were held incommunicado,”Bauer wrote in the November/December 2012 issue of Mother Jones. “We never knew when, or if, we would get out. We didn’t go to trial for two years. When we did we had no way to speak to a lawyer and no means of contesting the charges against us, which included espionage.” That piece pivoted toward solitary-confinement conditions for inmates in U.S. prisons.

The revelation about Bauer comes after a shadowy incident on March 13, outside the Winn Correctional Center, a state-owned prison managed by Corrections Corporation of America. As Jordan describes the events, his office received a call from the facility around 9:30 p.m. that someone was spotted on prison grounds via a light from a cell phone, and the person left in a rental car when pursued by prison guards. A deputy from Jordan’s shop was able to track down the vehicle and identified the driver as James West, based on his Australian driver’s license.

Those biographical details line up with the James West who works as a senior producer for Mother Jones. According to the Winn Parish Enterprise, “it is believed that he was here on assignment from New York.” West was released on a $10,000 appearance bond.

“Journalists have a right to do stories, but you can’t violate the law while you’re doing it,” says Jordan.

Mother Jones just issued a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog about all this:

James West was stopped by police while news gathering in a public place and arrested when he refused to show the contents of his camera. Shane Bauer is an award-winning criminal justice reporter. He did not conceal his identity or employment history from CCA. If and when he chooses to write about his experiences, we’ll be happy to discuss it further.

Despite Mother Jones saying it would be “happy to discuss it further,” it has yet to address the issue on its site.

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