By William R. Toler
While covering a fatal fire near Aurora, NC, a television reporter was approached by a Beaufort County deputy who tried to prevent him from shooting.
NewsChannel 12′s Mike Valerio said the deputy told him before he ever started not to shoot or air the video because the scene was considered evidence and airing before-hand could jeopardize the investigation.
Valerio was allowed onto nearby property owned by relatives and he decided to shoot from there. The same deputy approached him again and told him not to record.
“He was forceful…even though I was on private property that a family member invited me onto,” Valerio said. “Shortly after I left the family member’s property and got back where they wanted me to be, he said they had just been through media training.”
Later that day, News Director Shane Moreland made a call to Sheriff Alan Jordan. Chief Deputy Kit Campbell returned the call and said that the concern was for the family and that it would seem in poor taste to film the scene.
“The government doesn’t tell us what’s tasteful or not,” Moreland said. “The community does.” After the conversation, Moreland reiterated to the newsroom to respect the crime scene but added, “They’re not going to tell us what to air.”
While covering a wreck earlier this year, I was confronted by a state trooper who gave me the same “crime scene integrity” speech. Last year, another reporter from the same station was hassled by police in Washington, D.C. for shooting near the Lincoln Memorial.
So, my question is, what exactly are law enforcement officers being taught in their media training? To prevent journalists and citizens from excercising their First Amendment rights and attempting to violate, at times, their Fourth Amendment rights?
As Carlos Miller constantly points out at Photography Is Not a Crime, this seems to be the case. LEOs seem to think they can arrest people for filming them in public (which is legal almost everywhere) or confiscate their cameras without a warrant or subpeona.
It seems they forget that they took an oath to uphold the constitutions of their state and the United States and will often violate rights (and break laws) in order to make an arrest.
If not for journalists and activists, such as the multiple Cop Block organizations popping up around the country, LEOs would probably get away with more offenses than they are now.
We must be vigilant and remind them and everyone else of our rights before they’re completely eroded.
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