Reporter arrested for asking students about speech controversy
PENNSYLVANIA–A reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot-News was handcuffed and arrested in early July while covering a high school graduation. Police charged John Luciew with defiant trespassing for refusing to leave the state grounds holding the ceremony, but charges were dropped later in the week.
Luciew decided to attend the graduation when he received advance notice of a controversial speech to be given by a graduating senior.
Luciew was admitted to the graduation without any problems, he said, and heard the speech, held in the Forum building of the state capitol complex. The honor student criticized school administrators and condemned the teen-pregnancy rate among her peers.
“Children who are having children,” she said, “… will grow up to be victims, to be junkies, to be serial murderers, to be whores … and nothing else.”
After the 25 minute address, Luciew stood in the lobby of the Forum building to interview students about their reactions.
When school district ushers saw Luciew, they asked him to leave, he said. Luciew refused and the ushers flagged down three capitol police officers. Luciew told the police that he would not leave, and when he tried to re-enter the auditorium, police pushed him against a wall and handcuffed him, he said. Police then brought him to a patrol car where he was charged with trespassing, held for 30 minutes, and ordered to leave the ceremony.
According to Luciew, police later explained that they were told to keep all press out of the graduation, but school officials told him they did not ban the press. In a subsequent press release, the police said “school district officials had told capitol police that reporters were barred from the event.” When contacted, police officials declined further comment.
When he entered the graduation, Luciew said he was unaware of any press restrictions and only had to display his press credentials to be admitted to the auditorium.
After the arrest, the Patriot-News sent a letter to the Department of General Services, which oversees the capitol police, criticizing the police for their conduct and asking that the charges be dropped.
Later in the week, the Department announced in a press release that it would drop the charges. The director said he “offer[ed] my apologies for this incident.” Luciew said that he is not planning to take further action against the state.