CALIFORNIA — A newspaper photographer is scheduled to stand trial in municipal court in Bakersfield on November 14 on a charge of interfering with police and rescue efforts during a rescue attempt in a canal. If convicted, the photographer faces up to one year in jail.
In mid-July, John Harte, a 14-year veteran photographer of the Bakersfield Californian, allegedly refused to move from a concrete canal bank where rescue workers were loading boats and equipment to reach the body of an 8-year-old boy in the canal. Harte was arrested by police for ignoring repeated warnings to stand behind the gate with other reporters and camerapersons.
According to police reports obtained by the Associated Press, police escorted Harte back to the gate and he became “loud and agitated” and said he was going back to the canal bank. He was arrested later by a sheriff’s sergeant.
Californian metro editor Michael Trihey said Harte’s case should remind law officials that the media are allowed full access to accident scenes under California law. The state statute allows journalists access even if the general public is barred for safety reasons. But Stephanie Arnold, a Kern County deputy district attorney, told AP that according to a state appellate court decision, journalists are not allowed “carte blanche” access if there is an emergency at the accident or disaster scene.
Trihey said the newspaper had looked into the incident and was behind Harte “one hundred percent.” He said he does not believe Harte was in the way of the rescue workers, and that the drowning victim was in the water for over one hour before rescuers arrived.
Other reporters at the scene told AP they assumed the boy was dead but officials said it was impossible to tell. Rescue workers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him at the scene, but efforts were unsuccessful.
The Californian said Harte was doing a story on the boy’s drowning death to emphasize the seriousness of the problem in the area. Trihey told AP that there have been hundreds of drownings in the last 25 years in Bakersfield canals and the Kern River.
In 1985, Harte had taken a controversial 1985 photo of the grieving family of a young drowning victim.
(California v. Harte. Media counsel: Stanley Simrin, Bakersfield)
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