Police chief ‘reviewing’ arrests of two journalists
Hamilton police Chief Eric Girt says he’s reviewing the arrest of two journalists at the scene of a fatal crash in Waterdown Tuesday evening.
Freelance photographer David Ritchie was charged with obstructing police and resisting arrest, and Global News videographer Jeremy Cohn was arrested but released unconditionally. They were both working at the scene of a fatal crash in Waterdown, where a 10-year-old girl was killed.
“During the scene management of this fatal motor vehicle collision investigation, there were interactions between a member of the Hamilton Police Service and members of the media responding to the scene,” Girt said in a statement published Wednesday afternoon.
“As Chief of Police, I take the arrest of any member of the media seriously,” he later says. “As a result, I am reviewing this incident in the context of what transpired yesterday.”
In a video viewed by The Spectator, Ritchie — who is scheduled to appear in court June 15 — can be seen in the back of a police cruiser, with a paramedic taking his blood pressure at the scene. His work appears in The Spectator and on CHCH. After being released, he posted on Twitter that he has “great relationships” with first responders. “This was an isolated issue and I will be seeking resolution.”
Freelance photographer Andrew Collins witnessed some of the interaction with police and says the journalists were among the first on the scene. It was chaotic, with only two officers, no police tape yet up and people all over the road and front lawns.
Collins didn’t see what led up to Ritchie’s arrest but spoke to him afterward. Collins said Ritchie told him he left his camera on a lawn and went to grab something from his vehicle. When he got back, an officer had seized the camera. Ritchie said he’d use his cellphone camera, instead, which led to his arrest, Collins recounted.
Then, Cohn was told to leave and arrested on the property of a gas station at the corner of Dundas Street and Evans Road. Collins said police told him it was his “lucky day” because police didn’t have more handcuffs.
Global hasn’t yet decided how to respond to Cohn’s arrest and is looking for “answers and accountability,” news director Mackay Taggart said.
“As far as we’re concerned, our journalist, Jeremy Cohn, was doing his job and doing it in a lawful way at this tragic scene in Waterdown, when for one reason or another — and that reason is unclear — the police decided to apprehend him, restrain him, detain him and put him in the back of a police car.”
Taggart said Cohn wasn’t injured but “pretty shaken up.”
“To be detained in such a violent and aggressive matter seemed very unnecessary,” Taggart said, referring to video footage that “seems to show needless force and drastic measures.”
Such police action can’t be “brushed off,” he added.
The media and members of the public should be concerned when journalists “doing their job in a lawful way with the object of seeking truth for the public good and seeking information for the public good are prevented from doing that.”
Media rights group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has thrown its support behind the two, and also expressed concern about the arrests.
“All accounts indicate that the journalists did not cross a police line at the scene before they were detained,” CJFE said in statement.
In the letter, which was sent to Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Girt, CJFE called for the immediate dismissal of charges against Ritchie and a “full and public inquiry” into what happened. CJFE also urged Hamilton police to institute a media relations policy and train officers on how to “interact constructively” with the press to “give clarity of the crucial role journalists have in a democratic society.”
In a statement, Eisenberger said: “This incident is under investigation with the Hamilton Police Service ... My thoughts and prayers are with the family of this tragedy, witnesses and the first responders on scene.”
A police officer arrests Global’s Jeremy Cohn in Waterdown on Tuesday.
Ritchie: seeking resolution