From the Winter 2001 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 47.
Journalists throughout the country recently faced arrest and intimidation during the newsgathering process. A photographer in Ohio and a reporter in Florida were arrested while they pursued stories. Two journalists from Kentucky won a civil suit against an interviewee who held the reporters captive in his home. Police are still searching for clues in the murder of a California journalist-writer.
Journalist found dead in home
Susan Berman, a journalist and writer whose 1981 book “Easy Street” detailed her family’s connection to the Las Vegas mob, was found dead in her California home on Dec. 24, the victim of a gunshot wound to the head.
Police found Berman’s body after neighbors spotted her dogs on the street, according to The New York Times. According to the police, there were no signs of forced entry and nothing appeared to be stolen from the residence.
Berman was a former reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, a writer at New York magazine and a news writer at KPIX in San Francisco. She also wrote books and helped produce documentary programs about Las Vegas, where her father, David Berman, co-owned the Flamingo Hotel with Bugsy Siegel.
Police spokesman Lt. Horace Frank said police will investigate every angle, although they are skeptical about a possible organized crime connection. “But at this stage, we would not discount anything,” Frank told the Los Angeles Times. “We are going to look at everything.”
Prior to Berman’s death, New York state police tried to arrange a meeting with her about a reopened case from 1982 involving the disappearance of Kathleen Durst, whose husband was a friend of Berman.
Ohio photographer arrested at fire
A photographer for the Toledo Blade has pleaded not guilty to the charge of misconduct at an emergency after police arrested him at a fire scene in Tiffin, Ohio. Herral Long is accused of crossing the caution tape and refusing to leave the area on Jan. 9 when ordered to move by an officer. The police complaint also stated that Long failed to produce press identification.
Long maintained he identified himself as a newspaper photographer and that his identification was clearly visible. If convicted of the first-degree misdemeanor, Long faces a maximum six-month jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.
“In no way was I interfering with anybody who was doing anything,” Long told the Toledo Blade. Long’s trial is scheduled to begin March 23.
Kentucky TV journalists awarded $120,000 in suit against KKK leader
A federal judge on Dec. 22 ordered a Ku Klux Klan leader to pay $120,000 to two television journalists whom the Klansman held captive in his home.
The incident occurred on Nov. 17, 1999, when reporter George Sells and videographer Heidi Thiel, from WHAS- TV in Louisville, Ky., visited the home of Jeff Berry for an interview. Berry got angry when the journalists told him they planned to interview a former Klan member.
According to the federal court complaint, Berry would not let the two journalists leave until they handed over the videotaped interview. When the journalists refused, other Klan members blocked the doors. Berry released the journalists only after they surrendered the videotapes.
A federal magistrate awarded the reporters $20,000 each in compensatory damages and $40,000 each in punitive damages. In addition to the civil suit, Berry also faces criminal charges of theft and conspiracy to commit intimidation.
Florida photographer arrested for trespassing on public sidewalk
A photographer for the New Times in Broward-Palm Beach counties requested an internal investigation of police officer after an incident on Aug. 11 that resulted in his arrest for trespassing while standing on a public sidewalk.
Joshua Prezant, a freelance photographer on assignment for the New Times, claims that Ft. Lauderdale police officer Anthony Castro struck him in the face after he refused to stop photographing an office building in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Castro then arrested Prezant for trespass and disorderly conduct.
During the altercation, Prezant said he took at least seven photos. Police confiscated his camera and when they returned it, Prezant said the counter had been reset and the film exposed.
Prezant and New Times agreed not to sue the city if officials dropped the charges. But Prezant filed a complaint against Castro with the Internal Affairs Division of the police department. Prezant expected to receive the results of the investigation in mid-February.