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Newspaper Settles With Authorities In Suit Over Confiscated Film

January 1, 1992 GMT

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) _ A federal lawsuit brought by a newspaper after police confiscated a photographer’s film at a train wreck site has been settled out of court, and its purpose has been served, the publisher said.

″We’re trying to send a signal to remind people in authority to observe the rights of everybody,″ publisher Hubert Osteen Jr., publisher of The Item, said Wednesday.

The suit was filed after the July 31 derailment of an Amtrak passenger train near Camden that killed eight people. It was settled out of court Tuesday for an undisclosed sum.


Item Photographer Steve Bohnstedt’s film was confiscated at the accident site by Camden police officer George Waters. Kershaw County Coroner Thomas Horton had ordered the film seized. He has said he feared Bohnstedt had photographed dead passengers.

The Item and Bohnstedt sued the coroner and the police officer, alleging the seizure was improper and unconstitutional.

In the settlement, the coroner and police officer have agreed to pay lawyer fees, make a payment to Bohnstedt and The Item and apologize for the incident, Osteen said.

″Our goal was not to seek a financial windfall by our suit, but to vindicate our right and the right of other citizens to a free press, the right to be secure in person and property and the right to have due process of law,″ Osteen said.

In the lawsuit, The Item alleged Horton’s actions violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of the press; the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from improper search and seizure; and the Fifth Amendment, which forbids confiscating materials for evidence without due process.

Horton told The State newspaper in Columbia that his actions did violate Bohnstedt’s rights.

″I never knew anything about that part of the Constitution,″ Horton said. ″I do now.″

His written apology to The Item said only: ″I apologize for any inconvenience my actions may have caused during the Amtrak train derailment.″

In a letter sent to Item attorney Jay Bender, Camden Police Chief William Neill said the officer took the film because he was acting ″under what he assumed to be an order from higher authority.″

Neill apologized but also said he considered Horton to be ultimately responsible.