Guards at empty prison threaten news crew with arrest

WNYT | Albany Times Union

A TV news crew with WNYT in Albany, New York, was threatened with arrest while filming a piece about Grant Cottage on Mount McGregor, WNYT reported last Thursday. While filming outside the nearly closed Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton, New York, Mark Mulholland and Matt Soriano were stopped by a correctional officer and told to stop filming.

The two told him they were doing a piece on Grant Cottage, a state historic site.

“No filming,” said the officer, who identified himself as Lt. Dorn.
“We’re doing a story on Grant’s Cottage,” Mulholland tried to explain.
“It doesn’t matter,” the officer continued. After a few more exchanges he then said, “You’re going to leave the mountain now.”

Police eventually arrived after an odd scene that includes another correctional employee blocking the entrance to the state historic site and then driving really slowly in front of the two journalists. According to WNYT, the corrections officer “had called the state police and ask them to detain the journalists and demanded their video.” They did not have to give up their footage.

On Friday, Rick Karlin with the Times Union reported that the prison hasn’t had actual prisoners since April. It officially closed on Saturday, but “The Mt. McGregor facility’s final days were not without a bit of drama.”

The confrontation prompted The Associated Press to send a letter of protest. “We believe that the Channel 13 crew is owed an apology,” read part of a letter from Ken Tingley of the Glens Falls Post Star, the current president of the New York State Associated Press Association.

WNYT News Director Eric Hoppel said Mulholland was reporting that the Grant Cottage site is scheduled to stay open after the prison closes.

Another crew from a production company was on the prison grounds that day, shooting exterior scenes for a drama. State officials wouldn’t divulge details about the production.

WNYT did get a statement from the DOC last Thursday:

“We regret that this situation escalated, however the WNYT news crew blatantly disregarded a state officer who informed them they were trespassing. Department regulations state that photographs taken while on Prison property require prior permission. This policy is for the safety of all staff, visitors and prisoners.”

In February, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon wrote about the arrest of Damien Leist of the Charlevoix County News in Michigan, who was charged with “photographing [a] dead body in a grave.”

In January, Beaujon wrote about the arrest of student photojournalist Michael Takeda. Takeda was covering a school shooting at Purdue when he was arrested. That month, the Purdue Exponent and NPPA requested an investigation. In February, the officer who arrested the photographer was cleared. In May, the Exponent reported that the school was going to review the case again.

In July of 2013, Joshua Gillin wrote about the arrest of Detroit Free Press photographer Mandi Wright “after filming an arrest with an iPhone.”

Wright was working on a training project with reporter Kathleen Gray on July 11 when she began to record the arrest of a suspect on a public street. She was wearing press identification when she was approached by a police officer not wearing a uniform and told to stop recording, then had her phone confiscated before being arrested. The officer, who has not been named, asserted that Wright was obstructing an officer by jumping on his back to retrieve the phone; Wright says she only pulled on his shirttail.

In November 2012, Beaujon wrote about Miami photojournalist Carlos Miller, who was charged with and acquitted of resisting arrest while covering the Occupy movement. Beaujon also wrote about other journalists arrested while covering Occupy protests in September of 2012.

Also in 2012, Meena Thiruvengadam wrote “How journalists can protect themselves & the news they’ve gathered if arrested on the job.”

(Lucy) Dalglish (executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press) pointed out that “One of the reasons the cops flip out at a crime scene is because they think you have pictures of their undercover officers.” Still, she said, the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 prohibits law enforcement from seizing or erasing materials obtained by journalists for the purpose of communicating with the public.

Correction: Lucy Dalglish’s last name was misspelled in a previous version of this story and the story it linked to.

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