Don’t want to speak too soon, but on this last day of the Democratic National Convention it seems the events in Denver have unfolded minus the tense drama of waves of journalists swept into masses of detained protesters that marked the 2004 convention in New York City.
Indeed, the Reporters Committee hotline — staffed in Denver by the law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, L.L.P., to provide journalists with free legal assistance — has recorded exactly zero calls so far.
"Which is great," Levine Sullivan attorney Ashley Kissinger said — but that isn’t to say journalists have totally avoided run-ins with the police. In one particularly high-profile case, ABC producer Asa Eslocker was arrested Wednesday outside a Denver hotel and charged with trespass, interference and failure to follow a lawful order.
Kissinger’s firm is representing Eslocker independently of the hotline. She said the ABC crew was on a public sidewalk trying to film Democratic officials meeting with corporate donors in the hotel when they were asked to leave. Two hours later, the hotel apparently called the police back to the scene, and Eslocker was arrested.
"It seems like a strong First Amendment case from our perspective," Kissinger said. "He was apparently on a public sidewalk outside a hotel that he was ordered off of and," based on the facts gathered so far, "there were apparently other members of the public on the same (sidewalk) who were not asked to move. So he was treated differently."
Eslocker posted $500 bond at the attorneys’ advice and has been put in touch with a criminal defense lawyer to help address the municipal ordinance charges, Kissinger said.
Beyond that, Kissinger said the firm had heard of the USA Today videographer who was reportedly "roughed up" by police while taping a protest Monday. There was also word of a reporter or an intern with a media group being swept up in a batch of protester arrests earlier this week, she said, though the firm had not heard directly from anyone involved in such an incident.
The silence of the RCFP hotline phones doesn’t quite reflect the mood or the build-up around Denver, Kissinger said. "The ABC reporter incident seemed so blatantly unlawful from the videotape that, if that’s the way these officers are acting — maybe it was just an isolated incident," she said, "but we felt like the (Denver Police Department) has gone into war mode around here without much provocation."
Lt. Ron Saunier told The Associated Press the agency is "committed to looking into each and every allegation of unnecessary force."
"One instance with the media shouldn’t paint the entire event," Saunier told the wire service, referring to Eslocker’s arrest.
Levine Sullivan attorney Chris Beall said he reached out to Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald about a video clip Greenwald posted in which he tried to interview party-goers outside an AT&T event in Denver. There, too, a police officer and venue security staff are seen telling Greenwald to move away from the entrance, ultimately stationing him far from the party-goers, explaining that the sidewalk is private property.
But Beall, the attorney, said he hopes to find out more about the case because Colorado’s constitution provides more free-speech protection than the First Amendment — including, in certain cases, on private property.
"In Colorado, it is not enough to say, ‘This is private property, get off it,’" Beall said. "So the concern we have is that the police officers, who are just doing what they’ve been trained to do . . . that they have not been adequately (trained) as to the state constitutional protections" reporters and others are guaranteed.
In all, though, Beall said First Amendment watchers in Denver have seen nothing like the volume of detainments and interferences reporters faced in New York in 2004.
That is, as of today.
Meanwhile, with the Republican National Convention days away, police stopped and questioned three New York videographers who were walking near a train yard in Minneapolis this week, according to The Associated Press. Their cameras and other equipment were seized, The AP said, but returned Wednesday.