Po­lice chief ‘re­view­ing’ ar­rests of two jour­nal­ists

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NI­COLE O’REILLY nor­eilly@thes­pec.com 905-526-3199 | @Ni­coleatTheSpec With files from the Toronto Star

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.”

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPECTATOR

A po­lice of­fi­cer ar­rests Global’s Jeremy Cohn in Wa­ter­down on Tues­day.

Ritchie: seek­ing res­o­lu­tion

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