A reporter was arrested and held in jail for eight hours Tuesday in an incident in which he was attempting to ask questions of Tom Price, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, The New York Times reports. The incident took place at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston.
The reporter, Dan Heyman of the Public News Service, “wanted to ask about the health care legislation the House passed last week to replace the Affordable Care Act,” The Times reports. “With his Android smartphone in hand to use as an audio recorder, Mr. Heyman said in an interview on Wednesday, he reached over some of the staff and security members surrounding Mr. Price.
“According to an audio recording Mr. Heyman provided, he asked whether domestic violence was going to be a pre-existing condition under the new legislation.”
Heyman reportedly called out: “Do you think that’s right, or not?”
“He asked twice more and when there was no response, Mr. Heyman said: ‘You refuse to answer? Tell me no comment,'” The Times reports. “Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, was with Mr. Price, and at one point in the recording, a man’s voice is heard saying: ‘Do not get close to her. Back up.’”
The report adds: “After persisting in his questions for nearly a minute, Mr. Heyman was pulled to the side by officers of the West Virginia Division of Protective Services, also known as the Capitol Police, handcuffed and charged with a misdemeanor count of willful disruption of governmental processes. He spent eight hours in a local jail before the news service posted a $5,000 bail for his release.”
A criminal complaint reportedly says Heyman “tried aggressively to breach the security of the Secret Service” and was “causing a disturbance by yelling questions.” But The Times notes: “The arrest stirred suspicions that officers were trying to thwart his effort to ask questions.”
At a news conference Tuesday night, Heyman’s lawyer J. Timothy DiPiero said: “I’ve never had a client get arrested for talking too loud or anything similar to that.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia came out strongly against the arrest, calling it “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press.”
“The charges against him are outrageous, and they must be dropped immediately,” the statement added.
Heyman said today that he didn’t think security personnel were deliberately trying to block him from asking questions, but noted that their actions reflect antipathy toward the press.
“Their job is not to protect him from uncomfortable questions,” Heyman said.