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Police impersonate news media in ploy to end hostage crisis

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    NMU         NEW JERSEY         Newsgathering         Jun 23, 2000    

Police impersonate news media in ploy to end hostage crisis

  • Newark police seized a video camera from a news crew as part of a scheme to get closer to a man who was holding his 9-year-old son hostage.

Police officers in Newark decided to represent themselves as members of the news media in order to grant a hostage-taker’s request for a news interview and gain access to his home, where he was holding his son hostage. His wife and mother-in-law were already dead inside the home.

Police officials later said that after receiving a request for a news interview, officers at the scene decided they would impersonate reporters, but could not find a convincing camera to use. They approached New Jersey Network cameraman John Williams around 8:30 a.m. and told him that they needed his camera. NJN is a PBS-affiliated station.

Williams told The (Newark) Star-Ledger that he believed he had no choice in the matter. He turned over his credentials and camera, and gave officers a brief tutorial on how to operate the equipment.

Williams reported that the police took the camera into the house. But before the “interview” with suspect Ali Kemoum began, the police decided to use a camera borrowed from the Newark Fire Department instead.

According to a press release issued by the police, Sgt. David Wood of the robbery-homicide squad “posed as a camera operator using a professional television camera that was loaned to the police department.”

Kemoum agreed to the officers’ terms — an “interview” for the release of his son. But shortly after releasing his son, he realized he had been tricked and retreated upstairs.

William’s camera was returned to him two hours later, but the police said they had confiscated the tape because it could be used as evidence. NJN Spokeswoman Ronnie Weyl said the tape was returned later that day.

Incidents of media impersonation by police prompt concern about future threats to the safety of journalists while covering similar stories.

“It just shouldn’t be done,” Jerome Aumente, a journalism professor at Rutgers University, told The Star-Ledger.

“It’s tough enough (for a reporter) to cover a bad situation without having a bull’s-eye on your back because the criminals believe you’re not really part of the press but part of the law enforcement.”


© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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