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Charges dropped against reporter arrested while covering protest

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    NMU         COLORADO         Newsgathering         Sep 15, 2000    

Charges dropped against reporter arrested while covering protest

  • More than a year after his arrest, reporter Brian Hansen learned that he will not have to face a possible 6 month jail sentence or $5,000 fine.

A federal magistrate in late August dismissed charges against a journalist arrested while covering an environmental protest, after the U.S. Attorney’s office filed a motion to drop the case.

Former Colorado Daily staff writer Brian Hansen was swept up in arrests after environmental activists set up a blockade of Vail Mountain’s Mill Creek Road in an attempt to hinder a resort’s expansion project.

Hansen had been camping out on the mountain’s slope, not far from where the protesters had blocked a construction road. In the early morning hours of July 6, 1999, Hansen witnessed dozens of armed and camouflaged officers rush into the area and establish a perimeter around the protesters.

A Forest Service officer soon announced that a closure order had been issued for that part of the mountain and that anyone who remained after 15 minutes would be arrested. Unclear what area the closure order affected, Hansen asked an official where the press could go to monitor the action. A spot near the bottom of the mountain, he was told.

Knowing he would be unable to see the protest site from there and believing he had a First Amendment right to cover the news, Hansen refused to leave the scene. He was then arrested, placed in handcuffs and escorted out of the closure area.

Weeks before the charges were dismissed, Hanson had turned down a plea bargain offered by the prosecution under which charges would be dismissed in exchange for a promise to keep the Justice Department appraised of his whereabouts for six months. Hansen said the deal was too limiting, and would be an admission of guilt. He faced six months in jail or a $5,000 fine if the case had gone to trial.

Hansen said that prosecutors argued at a preliminary hearing in May that Hansen was acting more like a protester than a journalist and that his previous articles suggested bias against Vail and the Forest Service.

“There is the question of what is really driving the prosecution of me,” Hansen said. “The question of bias came up . . . and even if it were true, and it’s not, it’s completely irrelevant. This whole issue of bias is just the government trying to get some political cover for this whole prosecution.”

(Colorado v. Hansen; Media Counsel: Bill Richardson, Grand Junction)

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