Although on-the-job arrests of reporters are rare, Metropolitan Transit Authority police took WFSB-TV reporter Leon Collins and cameraman Pat Driscoll away in handcuffs and charged them with criminal trespassing last week after the two attempted to film footage of trains in a New Haven, Conn., train yard.
Collins said he planned to do a live shot for the 11 o’clock news, reporting on an informational meeting in West Haven, where there are plans to build a new train station.
Since the future building site in West Haven was not suitable for filming, Collins said they went to nearby New Haven. “We wanted something with trains and tracks in the background,” he said.
Collins said he didn’t see the small sign at the entrance to the train yard driveway that designated the area as restricted property. However, Driscoll parked the truck in a parking spot clearly marked for ‘visitors.’
Upon arrival, Collins spoke with a train yard worker to ask permission before setting up his equipment. While the train yard worker left to check with his superiors, a Metro-North police officer arrived on scene and asked Collins and Driscoll to leave.
Collins said he was more than willing to comply with the request, but as he was packing up his truck to leave, a second Metro-North officer arrived. Collins said the officer called him stupid and made several other derogatory remarks.
“When I questioned his lack of professionalism, his response was to arrest me,” Collins said. “He was antagonistic and did his best to inflame it. From the time he got out of cruiser to when he had us in handcuffs was not more than 45 seconds.”
Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said he did receive a call and "was told that the camera crew simply arrived with no forewarning." Brucker said there was "no logical reason" why Collins and Driscoll needed to be in the train yard, which is dangerous, and that he would have allowed them to shoot inside the train station itself.
Klarn DePalma, WFSB vice president and general manager, said he was surprised by the arrest. “I’ve been GM for three years and we haven’t had any issue like this before. I can’t remember it even happening in the market,” he said. “Honestly, it just doesn’t happen.”
Collins said he and Driscoll were handcuffed to a bench in the police station for more than an hour and denied the opportunity to call their station. “Our station never heard from us. They had a live truck reporter and photographer missing in action at air time,” he said. “Guys from our station went out looking for us. They didn’t know what had happened to us. We don’t operate that way. We let them know whatever we’re doing.”
DePalma said the station “absolutely” plans to fight the charges. Collins and Driscoll have a court appearance scheduled for Thursday.
Collins said the arrest won’t change the way he approaches newsgathering. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing for more than a decade. I’m not changing a thing. What I did was right and fair and responsible. I made a mistake by missing a sign, but we did everything we could,” he said.