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Journalist arrested, charged with harassment over two phone calls

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    News Media Update         NORTH CAROLINA         Newsgathering    

Journalist arrested, charged with harassment over two phone calls

  • A reporter covering a trial was arrested after a woman he called to interview charged him with making harassing phone calls.

Nov. 16, 2004 — News & Observer reporter Demorris Lee of Raleigh, N.C., was arrested Sunday morning after Ruth A. Brown, a property room technician with the Durham Police Department, filed a complaint against him, the News & Observer reported.

Lee was reporting on a case recently reopened by Durham police, in which Brown’s testimony three years ago helped convict a teenager of robbing her. The teen, Erick Daniels, was sentenced to 10 years in jail, the News & Observer reported.

A reporter at the paper for eight years, Lee started covering the initial trial in December 2001. About two and a half years ago, after an article ran in which Lee reported that the co-defendant was found not-guilty and that Erick Daniels was maintaining his innocence, Brown phoned Lee at work, upset.

“That was the only time I had a conversation with her,” he said in a phone interview.

Lee left two voice messages on Brown’s home answering machine last month when he was working on a story about Daniels’ attempts to clear his name, the News & Observer reported. The messages were respectful and were a routine part of the reporting process, and if Brown didn’t want to comment, he said, she could have simply told him so.

Brown obtained a magistrate’s warrant for Lee’s arrest. He is charged with one count of making harassing phone calls.

Amanda Martin, a lawyer for the North Carolina Press Association and the newspaper, said in an interview this was the first time she had ever heard of such an incident in the state.

Arresting a reporter for making harassing phone calls is extremely rare, Orlando Hudson Jr., Durham County senior resident Superior Court judge, told the News & Observer .

“Normally it [phone harassment offense] would be a situation, maybe a domestic situation, a male-female situation where there is some kind of amorous relationship,” Hudson said. “It’s not usually a reporter trying to find out information.”

Lee was released without bail Sunday morning by a Wake County magistrate on a written promise to appear in court Nov. 24 in Durham.


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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