|NMU||NEW YORK||Newsgathering||Jun 28, 2000|
Reporter arrested for eighth time in long-running quarrel with officer
- A reporter for an alternative newspaper was arrested for trespassing and harassment after he tried to attend a conference that was advertised as open to the public.
In the latest twist in a four-year running battle, a Buffalo Beat reporter was arrested after he entered a hotel to cover a convention held by a city official whom he regularly criticized in print and battled in the courtroom.
Reporter Robert Kern claims that as he stepped off of the hotel elevator, off-duty police officer and event sponsor Robert Quintana ran towards him yelling, “Get out, get the fuck out.” Quintana allegedly ordered Kern’s arrest, and had Kern held by another off-duty officer until the Buffalo police arrived.
This was the eighth time an altercation between Kern and Quintana or his family led to the reporter’s arrest.
“They basically manufactured charges against him,” Kern’s attorney Michael Kuzma alleged.
Kuzma was critical of the fact that Quintana — a former city council member — used what Kuzma considers threats and intimidation in response to a reporter’s exercise of his First Amendment rights.
“If you’re that thin skinned, you shouldn’t be on the city council or the police department,” Kuzma said.
Quintana could not be reached for a response.
According to Kuzma, one of the officers also took the tape in Kern’s cassette recorder that had been recording the arrest. The attorney believes the tape would have shed light on what actually occurred during the arrest, but the tape was never returned.
But even without the tape, Kuzma hopes to get the case dismissed. He explained that Kern was arrested for harassment and trespassing at the hotel, but no one from the hotel filed a complaint with the police; rather, the only complaint was filed by Quintana’s girlfriend, Millie Castro, Kuzma said.
This altercation is nothing new for Kern and Quintana. When Quintana was elected to the city council in 1995, Kern was one of his supporters. But after Quintana allegedly failed to deliver on campaign promises, Kern’s opinion and coverage of the official quickly soured. Kern began to criticize Quintana — on everything from having “family” on the payroll to being unresponsive to constituents. According to Kern, Quintana and his family hold this negative press “heavily responsible” for the official’s failure to win reelection in 1999.
After the election, the battles escalated.
In one incident last year, Kern said he was attacked by Castro’s ex-husband as he was riding his bike past Quintana’s house. But Kern claims that after he called police to report the incident, he was jailed instead on Quintana’s allegations that he had violated a protective order and was “crazy and dangerous.” Kern claims that the protective order — issued after a previous incident despite the fact that charges against Kern had been dropped — had expired before the incident.
In another incident last December, Quintana allegedly followed Kern through City Hall and into an office, where he punched the reporter in the face and ordered the staff not to call security as Kern requested.
Quintana has also allegedly tried to organize a boycott against Kern’s newspaper, the Buffalo Beat.
Kuzma fears that Kern’s case could have a chilling effect on speech in Buffalo.
“If Kern loses, it’s sending the message that any time you criticize a government or public official, he or she can go out and file criminal charges,” Kuzma said.
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press