SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A newspaper photographer who returned safely from such flashpoints as Panama, Haiti and Somalia was in serious condition Tuesday after a savage beating suffered while taking pictures for a springtime feature.
John Trotter, 36, a photographer for The Sacramento Bee, had been photographing children frolicking in record high temperatures Monday when a group of eight to 12 men demanded his film and began beating him. Trotter remained in fair condition Wednesday at University of California, Davis, Medical Center in Sacramento.
Trotter suffered serious head injuries.
“It looks like he wandered into a drug neighborhood, and for whatever reason, those people involved in that sort of activity didn’t want him being there,” said Sacramento police spokeswoman Pam Alejandre.
No arrests had been made.
The Sacramento Bee referred all calls to Executive Editor Gregory Favre, who issued a brief written statement.
“It is so sad and ironic that a photographer who is so gentle and sensitive as John should find himself a victim of such a vicious attack,” Favre said.
“He has spent his career trying, through his work, to show the best in people,” he said.
Trotter, an international photographer for The Bee since 1987, covered the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, the killer cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1991, the 1992 U.S. airlift to Somalia, and the 1994 unrest in Haiti.
Friends described him as mild-mannered and non-confrontational. An avid cyclist, he once took an extended leave to ride his bicycle across the country.
Trotter apparently remembers little of the attack and may be of little help in identifying his assailants, The Bee reported Monday.
Residents of the Oak Park neighborhood where the attack occurred said they suspected the assailants were afraid of having their pictures published because they feared being arrested for prior illegal activities.
“It shouldn’t have happened, that’s all there is to it,” said James Usher, 37, who lives a few houses away from the scene of the attack.
“Man came out to do his job, and some people thought he was doing something else, they come up and beat him up without even asking what he was doing,” Usher said, shaking his head.
Others in the area expressed anger that the high-profile incident would tarnish the reputation of the racially mixed neighborhood of modest homes. Oak Park has struggled in recent years to build community pride and declare itself a drug-free zone.
“What they did was wrong,” said Mark La Jeuness, 19, who lives a few houses from where the beating occurred. “Here he was, making the neighborhood look good, and they got him, which makes the neighborhood look bad.”
There was no suggestion from either police or neighborhood residents that the attack was motivated by hostility toward the media.
Trotter may have been the victim of drug criminals who feared being photographed, police and neighbors speculated.
Churches and neighborhood organizations in Oak Park also expressed outrage at the incident and sent messages wishing Trotter well.
Jim Gordon, editor of the National Press Photographers Association’s News Photographer Magazine in Bowling Green, Ohio, said he knows of no similar attack against a news photographer, although the job is often dangerous when assignments involve coverage of violence or war.
Society of Professional Journalists Director Greg Christopher also said the beating appeared to be an aberration.
“I guess the lesson seems to be, ‘always be on guard,” said Scott Summerdorf, director of photography for the San Francisco Chronicle. ”But half the fun of this job is going out and meeting people, knocking on doors, going to neighborhoods you don’t really know.”
You can also email John Trotter at: JohnT76635@aol.com