Court appearance set for photographer

7/19/2013

By AMY BICKEL and KATHY HANKS

By AMY BICKEL and KATHY HANKS

Special to the Telegram

GARDEN CITY — A court appearance has been scheduled for a world renowned photographer who captures images from remote regions of the world while soaring in a paraglider, after he was charged last week for trespassing at a feedlot near Garden City.

George Steinmetz, 55, of Glenn Ridge, N.J. and his assistant Wei Zhang, 39, Beijing, China, are set for a first appearance/case management 4:30 p.m. Aug. 29 at in the Finney County Courthouse. They are represented by Garden City attorney Lucille Douglass.

Steinmetz was flying in a paraglider as he snapped photographs from the air of a feedlot near Garden City. Waiting on the ground by an SUV was Zhang, a self-employed paraglider instructor.

On July 11, Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier charged the pair with criminal trespass after they were arrested June 28, for entering posted private property without permission. Steinmetz was on assignment for National Geographic magazine snapping photos as he flew above Brookover Feed Yard for a series about food issues that will appear next year.

"Much discussion has ensued surrounding the arrest of Mr. Steinmetz and his employee regarding the right to air space and to take photographs," said Richmeier in a press release. "The charges in no way are related to those two issues and focus on the landowner's right to privacy and control over their property. The persons involved have been charged with criminal trespass and their guilt or innocence must be proven in a court of law. As such, these defendants are innocent until proven otherwise."

Trespass is a class B non-person misdemeanor in Kansas, carrying a minimum 48 hours in jail. The Hon. Ricklin Pierce will preside over the case.

Neither man was in the courtroom on Thursday. And whether the pair will be in Garden City for the court date will be up to Pierce.

"Kansas statute allows misdemeanor defendants to appear through counsel," Douglass said. "Judges have different rules for their courtroom. My clients will comply with the judge."

National Geographic believes the men are not guilty and retained Douglass to appear for them at the scheduling docket, and represent them in defense of the charges, said Beth Foster, a spokeswoman for the magazine.

Meanwhile, before the Garden City incident, Steinmetz was in Marquette on June 25 to take photos of the wheat harvest. Elevator crews were filling bunkers with wheat, according to an elevator employee. Steinmetz wanted to photograph the piles for the National Geographic story.

However, he did stop at the elevator to ask permission of the manager. The elevator's wheat harvest crew watched him for a time, but Steinmetz and his assistant could not get the paraglider off the ground, spending most of the time working on the contraption.

He was there from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., when he signed out on the elevator's visitor log, telling the staff he was heading to Abilene.

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