Napa County Sheriff’s Deputies detained ABC7 reporter Wayne Freedman (background) and photographer Craig Southern, seized their camera and intentionally broke their cell phone while the pair were attempting to cover a grass fire on Wednesday, the station reports.

News Director Kevin Keeshan said he will press criminal charges and file a civil lawsuit against the deputies.

“I’ve been a journalist for 30 years in California and never in my 30 years have we ever had a reporter or photographer arrested or detained for doing their job,” Keeshan told the Napa Valley Register. At left, a handcuffed Friedman is placed in a squad car.

Keeshan said Friedman and Southern were detained by deputies over an argument about whether the journalists were too close to the fire. Keeshan said deputies broke one of the men’s cell phones in half after he used it to film the other man being detained. Keeshan also said deputies confiscated their camera.

Both Freedman and Southern were handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car for 15 minutes, ABC7 said. A sheriff’s department captain later apologized and both were released without being charged. (Photo credit: Kim Komenich, Chronicle. Click here to see additional photos.)

SF Press Club News


  1. The cops can only limit access to a crime scene. And, in that case, they should make an effort to get the reporters in touch with the Public Information Officer.

    In this case, if there was some indication that the fire were arson and the reporters might hinder the investigation, the Deputies actions would have been appropriate.

    Reporters have the right to enter a closed area. That the reporters were 849(b)’d with an apology from the Sheriff tells the story; the officers need some additional training.

    Nothing says the cops need to rescue the reporters when they go into a closed area. It’s at their peril.

  2. “Law enforcement” may think they have the right to determine who enters a certain area, but the Legislature doesn’t agree. Maybe the cops think they can just create their own laws out of thin air?

  3. Law enforcement officials have the right, and the law behind them, to set the time, date and place of entry into a closed area. They are in charge–the media doesn’t determine that right when to enter at will, just a news team wouldn’t be allowed to go wondering inside a closed-off building during a fire or other disaster. The news crew disobeyed the the officers, and were detained. The news team broke the law by not obeying the orders of the sheriff’s department.

  4. Reporters are given a right of access to disaster scenes by California law. Penal Code section 409.5 allows law enforcement to close off an area where a “flood, storm, fire, earthquake, explosion or other disaster” happens, but the same law says ‘Nothing in this section shall prevent a duly authorized
    representative of any news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network from entering the areas closed pursuant to this section.’

    The cops clearly broke the law. And the reporters have a right to sue them for assault and battery.

  5. PS
    I have seen the news use their powers to discredit law enforcement, FEMA and other agencies. I think that they should obay the same laws we have to obay and one of them is not to RUM a road block. If it were me, they would have done the same thing. The officers were fair in detaining them and should not be punished because a “NEWS CREW” unlawfully ran the road block.

  6. As an average citizen and news viewer, I’m shocked to learn of the outrageous abuse of authority wielded by the Napa Co. Sheriff’s Dept. against ABC7’s news field crew. This miscarriage of justice smacks of the same malicious intent recently carried out by the LAPD in MacArthur Park on May 1st where numerous local reporters were subjected to excessive force inappropriately without apparent cause.
    Such behaviour by sworn law enforcement is inconceivable. Reporters have a job to do, and it’s a dangerous enough one without these types of incidents brought on by those whose job is to protect and serve innocent citizens.
    Kudos to KGO’s News Director for having the courage to press criminal charges against the deputies involved, and filing necessary lawsuits. How sad that this type of action has to be taken at all–such incidents never should happen in the first place.
    It is my hope that the officers involved receive all due punishment for their actions. A clear message must resonate throughout the ranks of law enforcement to remind them of the responsibilities that go along with their authority.
    These types of abuses cannot, and should never be tolerated nor allowed to continue. Hopefully KGO’s crew will receive justice…

  7. This is an outrageous incident and I’m glad to see Kevin Keeshan is taking strong action against these deputies. Hopefully a costly lawsuit for the sheriff’s department will make other law enforcement officers think twice before hassling reporters who are simply doing their jobs.

  8. I was a witness once to one of these arrests where the cameraman from channel 7 refused to obey instructions at the crash of a small plane. He later went on trial, and lost–I believe, in Alameda County. The media has to learn that law enforcement has the upper hand in these situations, and proceed accordingly. With caution, and with respect. Arrogant sonsofbitches that many of them are.

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