journalist arrested for asking questions?
When news broke that journalist Dan Heyman was arrested for allegedly asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price some questions in West Virginia Tuesday, the health secretary thanked the police for “doing what they thought was appropriate,” Raw Story reports.
Now Heyman stands charged with “willful disruption of governmental processes” because he allegedly tried to walk past Secret Service agents and, police say, yelled “aggressively” at Price. STAT asked Price if this journalist should have been arrested. He responded that “it’s not my decision to make.”
He contends that Heyman confronted him as he walked down a hallway:
“That gentleman was not in a press conference,” he said.
Heyman, who writes for the independent Public News Service, was at the State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, covering the visit by Price and White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway. Several protesters were also on the scene.
Valerie Woody, outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, was also there. Price’s entourage moved quickly down a hallway, with Heyman close behind them, she said.
Woody didn’t see anything in Heyman’s behavior that was worrisome.
“I saw nothing in his behavior, I heard nothing that indicated any kind of aggressive behavior or anything like that,” she said. “Just simple, you know, trying to get somebody’s attention and ask them a question. It seems to me there was no violation of anyone’s space, or physicality, other than the arrest itself.”
Price was at the Capitol to discuss the U.S. opioid crisis with legislators.
Heyman’s attorney, Tim DiPiero, said the charge of “willful disruption of governmental processes” is centered around a statute that he considers pretty “vague.” Heyman, who was released on a $5,000 bond, was just doing his job as a journalist, DiPiero said.
Others who were on hand at the time, like Kristen O’Sullivan, saw the arrest. She recorded it on her cellphone and said she was at the Capitol to protest the American Healthcare Act because she’s a cancer survivor and she’s worried about future coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. O’Sullivan didn’t know the journalist, but said Heyman was grabbed by the neck and put against a wall by Capitol security officers.
“And it’s a shame,” she said, “to see not only the fact that we may be losing the ability for ourselves to get our pre-existing conditions covered, but we’re losing out on the first amendment. We can’t even report on that anymore.”
Holding a press conference shortly after posting bail, Heyman said he repeatedly asked if domestic violence is considered a pre-existing condition under the current GOP healthcare bill.
Heyman said he waited for Price to enter the building, then reached forward with his phone, through the group of people who accompanied the Secretary. He continued to ask questions repeatedly and added that several other reporters wanted to ask other questions about pre-existing conditions.
Not long after that, capitol police “decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me,” Heyman said. Price held a press conference at the end of his visit, and while Heyman allegedly could have attended, he decided not to.
The criminal complaint filed by police claims that Heyman was “aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol. The defendant was causing a disturbance by yelling at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”
For Heyman, whose job it is to ask questions, this was a pretty sobering experience. He couldn’t remember how many times he asked the question, but being arrested shocked him.
“First time I’ve ever been arrested for asking a question,” he said. “First time I’ve ever heard of someone getting arrested for asking a question.”
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President Donald Trump has made it a point to attack the First Amendment at ever opportunity. He’s tried to change it to suit his whims. He claims the media is out of control and he’s upset that protesters have freedom of speech.
Well that is just tough toodles, now isn’t it? The First Amendment is all about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and no matter how much Trump doesn’t like this, we still have these rights as guaranteed by the Founding Fathers.
Welcome to Trump’s America, where journalists will likely be fighting to keep the First Amendment free for the next four years.
Heyman and DiPiero discuss the case in the video below.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
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