Arrest of a news reporter at an Ohio press conference raises questions
There are still questions about the arrest of a television reporter at a press conference about events following a train derailment in East Palestine.
Evan Lambert of NewsNation was arrested by the East Palestine Police Department for trespassing just as the event was beginning.
A report from the East Palestine Police Department said two Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers, along with Ohio National Guard Adjutant Major General John Harris, approached Lambert while he was live reporting to ask him to stop.
An argument ensued and according to the document, Harris informed officers that Lambert "was coming at him in an aggressive manner."
The report, which referred to Lambert as Evan Lambert-McMichael, said Harris felt threatened and pushed Lambert away. It said various law enforcement authorities then asked Lambert to leave because the situation had "evolved into a physical confrontation and required law enforcement intervention.
The report said the East Palestine Police Department and the Columbiana County Sheriff's Department only responded to that area of the gymnasium where the news conference was being held because the situation between Lambert and Harris had escalated. The report said there was a struggle between Lambert and the officers that resulted with the reporter being "taken to the ground" and handcuffed before being transported to the county jail. He was released a few hours later. The police department said Lambert has been charged with criminal trespassing. A Columbiana County Courtdocument showed he has been charged with resisting arrest.
Minutes later, during the press conference, reporters asked Gov. Mike DeWine about the arrest. He said he didn't know much about it but would look into it. But he said he did not have anything to do with it.
"You know, it has always been my practice that if I'm doing a press conference and someone wants to report out there, and they want to be talking back to the people on channel whatever, they have every right to do that. So that should not, if someone was stopped from doing that, or told they could not do that, that was wrong. It (the arrest) was nothing that I authorized and it certainly would be something that I would not want to see happen," DeWine told reporters.
DeWine said he doesn't know all of the facts but was "very, very sorry" that it happened. Since that time, the governor said he has reviewed the body cameras worn by Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers. And while he said he saw the reporter and law enforcement officials "going back and forth," he said the reporter should have never been asked to stop doing his job to begin with.
"As far as I'm concerned, the charges just ought to go away," DeWine said.
Response to the arrest
Large national newspapers and media outlets immediately began to circulate stories about Lambert's arrest. The Society of Professional Journalists has condemned his arrest.
SPJ National President Claire Regan and SPJ Vice-President Ashanti Blaize Hopkins said, “Journalism is not a crime and we urge East Palestine PD to drop all charges against Mr. Lambert immediately and issue a public apology for his arrest.”
The situation has also attracted attention from many groups that oppose Lambert's arrest, including Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters.
“At a time when journalists and news media already have to worry about their safety and well-being due to political attacks, the arrest of a journalist for simply doing his job is unacceptable. Freedom of the press is one of the core tenets of our nation, and yesterday’s incident flew in the face of that freedom,” Walters said.
NewsNation's Washington Bureau Chief, Mike Viqueira, issued a written statement saying the organization is relieved that Evan Lambert is safe and headed home for a much-needed respite.
"We never want to lose sight of the fact that Evan was in Ohio to provide up to the minute reporting about a tragic train accident that has impacted thousands of lives. Evan handled this unfortunate situation with true professionalism, and we appreciate his commitment as a journalist whose goal is to report stories that are fair and unbiased. On a positive front, I just spoke with Evan a short time ago and he was calm, cool, collected and already talking about his next assignment," Viqueira said.