Letter to the Editor: Student’s Camera Held Hostage

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First, a criminal stole from me. Then, the Poweshiek County Attorney stole from me, again.
While I was moving out of my room last semester, my $500 Canon DSLR camera disappeared from outside my door on the third floor of Read Hall. The camera was well hidden amongst my belongings. I immediately called security and filed a police report. In an exciting feat of investigation, the Grinnell Police Department was able to recover the camera within a couple hours. I was thrilled.
Then my excitement turned to shock. At the police station I was told that my camera would not be returned to me until after the trial.
I tried every possible method to speak to County Attorney Rebecca Petig (’97), the prosecutor of the case. Every time I called I was told that Petig was too busy but would get back to me when she was available. Three months it took before I heard her voice for the first time.
She talked around in circles for 15 minutes. I tried to understand why she decided to hold my camera hostage when photo evidence is the norm in stolen property cases. If someone had stolen a farmer’s pickup, would Petig keep the truck from the farmer for months? What about stolen livestock? She told me that the court needed the “best available evidence” but did not cite any law governing this absurd requirement. After conducting my own research, I found no evidence of any law that would justify keeping my camera locked up for six months and counting; the court date has yet to be set.
This absurdity has caused me much stress. I am severely limited in my ability to make films. Numerous student groups rely on me to regularly produce videos for them. I now must rent all my equipment from the college’s AV center. This only works while I’m at Grinnell. Next semester I’ll be abroad in a film production program in Prague. It is difficult to imagine being in this program without a camera.
Making films is my driving force and my source of income, so when the Poweshiek County justice system decided to hold my camera hostage, I suffered. County Attorney Petig, I am pleading with you to return my property.

—Fintan Mason ’17