NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NEW JERSEY · Newsgathering · June 6, 2007
Paper’s independent testing leads to reporter’s arrest
June 6, 2007 · A newspaper reporter collecting soil samples at a New Jersey school site recently closed because of pesticide contamination was arrested Saturday and charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
Michael Gartland, 33, a reporter with The (Hackensack, N.J.) Record, was arrested along with Thomas Adamkiewicz, 63, a field manager for Aqua Pro-Tech Laboratories, a firm hired by the newspaper to test the soil, after they collected soil samples near one the school’s soccer fields and running track, according to police records.
Jennifer Borg, vice president and general counsel of North Jersey Media Group, which owns the paper, said Gartland broke a story last month about heavily contaminated soil discovered at West Brook Middle School in Paramus, N.J. Gartland wrote that school district officials knew of the contamination in January after environmental consultants tested the soil last year, but did not tell parents of the findings until May 23.
Gartland also reported that the contaminated soil sat uncovered in piles beside the school despite Environmental Protection Agency recommendations that unearthed soil should always be covered.
School department officials closed the school last week, Gartland said in a telephone interview today. The Record reported last week that the state Department of Environmental Protection removed the piles of soil a day after the school was closed.
The paper hired Adamkiewicz’s environmental testing firm to conduct an independent study of the soil at the school and at least two other schools in the district.
“How much risk the soil posed to the public is still a question to be answered,” Gartland said. “I think we felt an independent examination was in order.”
According to a police report, officer Doug Ohlendorf confronted Gartland and Adamkiewicz around 10 a.m. Saturday after Ohlendorf saw the two carrying bags of soil from the school.
Ohlendorf and other police officials responding to scene said in the police report that Gartland and Adamkiewicz knew the property was off-limits because of an ongoing investigation into the contaminated soil. The police said the city’s mayor closed the property on May 29 and said the two illegally went onto the property after they crossed police tape and barricades that had been put up.
According to the report, police told Gartland and Adamkiewicz that they should have known they were not allowed on the site. Gartland said he and Adamkiewicz were not trespassing because the school was public property, according to the police report.
“Where Mike entered the property, there wasn’t a police line,” Borg said. “We contend that indeed he did not trespass.”
Gartland said he will plead not guilty at his court appearance June 27.
Though Borg said the newspaper offered to defend Adamkiewicz as well, he is being represented by separate counsel. The photographer at the scene was not arrested but may face charges as well, Borg said.
“We’re going to vigorously defend the charge,” Borg said. “We will also continue to vigorously seek the truth about the soil contamination.”
Borg added that she will seek an expedited return of the soil samples so they can be tested during their shelf life and results can be published in the paper.
On Monday, Gartland said he ran into more problems when a police captain threatened to arrest him again if he tried to enter a public meeting held by the school board at the school district’s administrative offices. A school administrator said that while another reporter from the paper would be allowed in the meeting, Gartland would not.
Editors at the paper then called Paramus’ mayor, who, in turn, told school district officials that they could not bar Gartland from the meeting, Borg said. But as soon as the meeting got started, the board voted to go into executive session, excluding reporters and parents.
(Media Counsel: Jennifer Borg, North Jersey Media Group, Hackensack, N.J.) — NC