The Napa County Sheriff has issued a memo to all field officers that reminds them of the rights of journalists when it comes to access at disaster scenes. This comes in the wake of the sheriff department’s brief detainment of KGO ABC7 reporter Wayne Freedman and photographer Craig Southern while they were covering a brush fire on Wednesday. News Director Kevin Keeshan says in his blog that Sheriff Doug Koford personally met with him at KGO-TV to explain the situation and tell him that it was being investigated by two lieutenants. Joning Koford in the meeting were were Capt. John Robertson and Napa County Risk Manager Kerry Whitney.
In the memo to officers, Capt. Robertson bold-faces the part of the statute (PC 409.5 (d)) that gives the media access to disaster scenes:
- “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.”
But Robertson also says in the memo:
- “Unprofessional behavior, on the part of the media, is just that; ‘Unprofessional’. Any unprofessional behavior should be noted in the form of a memorandum and forwarded to the Napa Sheriff’s Office PIO for handling. The Napa Sheriff’s Office will advise their employer of their unprofessional behavior.”
Freedman has posted his recollection of the incident. He concludes by saying:
- “I have been a reporter since 1971, and have covered every kind of story, in every imaginable situation. This is the most flagrant example I have ever seen of peace officers losing their cool, and abusing their power.
“Their actions were without just cause, and overly forceful. They confiscated and broke newsgathering equipment and private property, including a camera phone. They restrained the news media from covering a story when we had every right to be there, and broke my equipment as I tried to document their actions in detaining us.
“If this is how those Napa County Sheriff Deputies deal with accredited journalists carrying cameras and microphones who know the law, how will they treat average citizens in other situations?”
The Napa Valley Register has a story this morning that gives both sides of the clash. It also has a link to the complete memo issued by Capt. Robertson.