FARGO – After a man was spotted shooting photos Monday near the downtown Island Park Pool, which was busy with children, local officials took the rare step of banning him from all city pools.
In making a decision to bar someone from a public place like a pool, library or other taxpayer-funded facility, no specific criteria have to be met, officials say. Instead, it's a gray area where officials have wide discretion.
"There's really no rules for this," said Roger Gress, executive director of the Fargo Park District. "It's a feel for the situation."
Banning people from property, or "trespassing" them, is a regular occurrence for Fargo police. So far this year, there have been 648 so-called "no-trespass orders" issued, the vast majority of which involved private property, police records show.
Lt. Mike Mitchell said such orders, which are done at the request of property owners or managers, are used to warn people that if they come back to a certain property, they could be arrested for trespassing. For instance, a store manager may ban a shoplifter, or a bar owner may ban an unruly customer, Mitchell said.
In a case like the one that arose Monday, when someone is taking photos in a park, officials have to navigate a path between the person's First Amendment rights and the safety of parkgoers, particularly children, when they're deciding whether to issue a no-trespass order.
"It's complicated because we don't want to violate people's rights," said police Lt. Joel Vettel, who serves on the Fargo Park Board. "We also recognize the greater good of the public, and we want to be respectful of that."
Gress said that while the park district takes a person's rights into consideration in such cases, he's inclined to err on the side of the safety of children. "These kids come first-end of story," he said.
Police have identified the photographer in the park as Kirk Ludwig, 37, of Fargo. On Monday, The Forum spoke with a man named Jed Felix who said Ludwig was standing along First Avenue South that afternoon surreptitiously snapping photos of Island Park Pool.
Felix said he confronted Ludwig, whose response was that he was just taking photos, that he was an artist and that he was not doing anything illegal. Felix, who didn't approve of Ludwig's actions, argued with him, and Ludwig, who would not show the photos he took, eventually drove off, Felix said.
Detectives later interviewed Ludwig at police headquarters after learning he had been taking photos by the pool. Ultimately, he was not charged with a crime related to his photography.
However, while Ludwig's car was parked near police headquarters, an officer with a drug-sniffing dog walked around the car, and the dog detected the odor of drugs, Mitchell said.
A search of the car resulted in Ludwig being charged Tuesday with possession of less than ½ ounce of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia, both misdemeanors. He has a court date set for July 30 in Fargo Municipal Court.
Aside from the two marijuana-related charges, court records show that Ludwig does not have a criminal record in Minnesota or North Dakota. On Tuesday, phone messages left for him were not returned, and no one answered the door when a reporter went to his home.
Felix posted photos on Facebook of Ludwig aiming his camera at the pool. This prompted many people to share Felix's post and write angry comments directed at Ludwig. Others came to Ludwig's defense, saying that banning him from city pools was unconstitutional.
A post from the personal Facebook account of Jessica Schindeldecker, a Fargo police officer, asserted that Ludwig had committed a crime. "Even though he broke no laws regarding photographing people in a public place, he did violate a ND ordinance called 'Disorderly Conduct,' " Schindeldecker wrote. When reached by phone, she said she was not speaking for the Police Department in her post.
Vettel said Schindeldecker is entitled to her opinion. However, the officers who investigated Ludwig's case did not believe his actions reached the level of disorderly conduct, Vettel said.
Although Ludwig's photo-taking was not illegal, park district and police officials found it concerning partly because he had demonstrated similar behavior in the past in Fargo and elsewhere, Vettel said, declining to give further details other than to say Ludwig was banned from another Fargo property.
Gress, who's been head of the park district since 1996, said he could recall only one or two other instances when the district banned someone from park property. Vettel said such bans last 90 days and don't apply to the entire park system. Those who are banned have the option of appealing the decision through the park district, Vettel said.
Tim Dirks, director of the Fargo Public Library, said he has experience barring people from the city's libraries. Typically, such bans result from someone threatening library patrons or staff, or from someone being intoxicated or using drugs or alcohol at a library.
But the bans aren't forever. Depending on the situation, people can regain their library privileges after six months or a year, Dirks said.
Before lifting a ban, Dirks inquires as to whether the person is receiving help for whatever problem they have, and he confers with police to see if the person has had any other issues.
"The goal of this is obviously to ensure that the environment at the Fargo Public Library, at any of its locations, is a positive experience for everyone," he said.
In three years as superintendent of Fargo Public Schools, Jeff Schatz said he has not banned anyone from school district property. But during his 18 years as a high school principal in Grand Forks and Fargo, he did have to bar some people from school buildings.
"If we get unusual activity that gets brought to our attention, we'll investigate that," he said. "And if we think that it is any kind of threat to the environment, we certainly can go for" a no-trespass order.
For Schatz, the decision to ban someone from school property is not simply a question of whether a law's been broken. It's also a question of whether the person's actions raise concerns about student safety, he said.
Adrian Glass-Moore contributed to this report