A well-known and respected reporter, Daniel Ralph Heyman (54), with the Public News Service of West Virginia, was arrested and charged with “disruption of government services” in the State Capital on Tuesday, May 9th. The reporter was allegedly yelling questions to White House Advisor Kellyanne Conway and Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
A video of the arrest, shot by Valerie Woody with the West Virginia Citizens Action Group. 3/3 pic.twitter.com/Q1bOSotNEe
— Eric Tegethoff (@EricTegethoff) May 9, 2017
Shot by Valerie Woody with the West Virginia Citizens Action Group
Even before Donald Trump raised his right hand and was sworn in as president he had a contentious relationship with the press. The new president has tweeted about “fake news” and even berated reporters by name at press conferences. The contempt for the press seemingly has followed the administration to the oval office. This Tuesday, Daniel Ralph Heyman was handcuffed and arrested on the floor of the Capital Building as he was attempting to ask members of the Trump administration questions. The West Virginian writer was charged with “willful disruption of government processes” and was freed on $5,000 bond Tuesday night. The misdemeanor charge carries a possible fine of $100 and up to six months in jail.
The criminal complaint described Heyman’s actions as the following; “The above defendant 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,” It adds Heyman caused a disturbance by “yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”
Of course, the reporter has a different account of the occurrence. Upon his release from jail, Heyman told reporters he was “trying to do my job”. Heyman contends he pressed Price on whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the proposed American Health Care Act. Price ignored Heyman’s questions although he obviously heard him. “He didn’t say anything,” Heyman told reporters. “So I persisted. This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I think it’s a question that deserves to be answered. I think it’s my job to ask questions and I think it’s my job to try to get answers.” Heyman added that his arrest sets a terrible example for members of the media seeking answers.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia called the charges “outrageous” and said the arrest was “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press. Freedom of the press is being eroded every day,” it said in a statement.” We have a president who calls the media ‘fake news’ and resists transparency at every turn.” The statement said this is a “dangerous time in the country.”
Price and Conway were in The State to discuss the opioid addiction in West Virginia, which has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. The controversial duo was confronted by several demonstrators protesting a bill recently passed by the U.S. House to repeal and replace Obamacare. One of the protesters, Kristen O’Sullivan, recorded the arrest on her cell phone. She told Public News Service that Heyman was grabbed by the back of the neck and put against a wall by capitol security officers. O’Sullivan was quoted as saying; “we’re losing out on the First Amendment. We can’t even report on that anymore.”
Another individual who was there, Valerie Woody, said Price’s group was moving quickly down a hallway and Heyman was racing after them. “I saw nothing in his behavior, I heard nothing that indicated any kind of aggressive behavior or anything like that,” she told Public News Service. “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.”
Heyman’s attorney, Tim DiPiero, told Public News Service that the charge, “willful disruption of governmental processes,” is based on what he called a “vague” statute and that Heyman was just doing his job as a journalist.
There’s no doubt that any contact that this administration has with the press will be controversial. Trump is not the first nor the last president to have a bad relationship with the media. However, arresting well-respected reporters for simply asking questions seems to be setting a new dangerous precedent. Furthermore, charging Heyman with an arcane charge that may not even fit the reporter’s actions is even more troubling. Regardless of what happens to Heyman and his charges, there’s no doubt that watch dogs will be watching this situation closely.