Sure, reporters are super annoying when they shout out the same question over and over. But is that criminal?
West Virginia authorities think so. Veteran reporter Dan Heyman was arrested in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday for “yelling questions at” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about whether domestic violence is a preexisting condition under the Republication replacement for the Affordable Care Act dubbed “Trumpcare.”
And the American Civil Liberties Union isn’t having it, calling the arrest “outrageous.”
Heyman was arrested for “aggressively breaching” Secret Service agents as they provided security to Price and Kellyanne Conway, special counsel to President Donald Trump, as the two officials walked through the West Virginia Capitol to meet with local lawmakers about local opioid addiction, according to a criminal complaint.
The complaint said that authorities were “forced to remove him a couple of times from the area” and that Heyman “was causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”
Tom DiPiero, Heyman’s lawyer, said he has never had a client arrested for “talking too loud.” DiPiero said Heyman is a mild-mannered, reputable journalist and called the arrest “bizarre.”
Heyman was jailed on the charge of willful disruption of state government processes and released on $5,000 bail.
Heyman, a journalist with the Colorado-based Public News Service, said he was directing several loud questions to Price while holding up his cell phone to record the encounter.
“He didn’t say anything,” Heyman said at a nighttime press conference. “So I persisted.”
Heyman said he was wearing a press pass and a T-shirt with a “Public News Service” logo when he was arrested, but a photograph of his arrest posted on Twitter showed Heyman in a tan jacket that covered his T-shirt and it is unclear whether his press badge was visible outside his jacket.
Heyman said authorities did not give him any warning that he was breaking the law and continued to arrest him even after he told them he was a reporter.
The ACLU of West Virginia called on local authorities to immediately drop charges against Heyman, calling his arrest “outrageous” and “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press.”
“Today was a dark day for democracy,” the local ACLU said in a written statement. “But the rule of law will prevail. The First Amendment will prevail.”
“This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do,” Heyman 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.”
Valerie Woody, outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group who witnessed the arrest, said Price’s entourage was moving quickly through a hallway and Heyman was scurrying after them.
“I saw nothing in his behavior, I heard nothing that indicated any kind of aggressive behavior or anything like that,” she said in an interview with 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.”
Price and Conway were in Charleston, W. Va., to meet privately with state and local policymakers and community groups, according to the Associated Press. The Capitol was filled with protestors when Heyman was arrested. West Virginia has the nation’s highest rate of opioid overdoses.
Heyman said he has been a reporter for about 30 years, and has been working as a West Virginia-based producer and reporter for Public News Service since 2009.