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Reporter arrested at standoff site for refusing to leave furniture store

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    NMU         COLORADO         Newsgathering         Jul 30, 2002    

Reporter arrested at standoff site for refusing to leave furniture store

  • Sheriff’s deputies and police arrested a reporter who stayed with civilians rather than join other media at a press conference during a hostage situation in a small Colorado city.

While observing and photographing a drug-store hostage situation on July 17 in Canon, Colo, a reporter for the Canyon Current was arrested and detained briefly after disobeying a law enforcement officer’s order to relocate.

Ben Timberlake, a reporter at the weekly newspaper, observed the standoff taking place at the Palace Drug store from a store across the city’s Main Street. He and a few other newspaper staff members had received approval from a Canon police officer to remain at the back of Naked Woods, an unfinished furniture store, where they were able to view the event from a distance.

The hostage situation began when an armed man entered the drug store in the late morning and fired one or more shots after being refused drugs he requested. One employee of the store was held hostage until 7:30 that evening when the man exited the front of the store firing shots and was critically wounded by an officer shooting back.

When his fellow reporters relocated several hours into the standoff, Timberlake remained at the store but was soon advised by officers to attend a press conference being held down the street. An officer told him to leave the store, but Timberlake said he opted to stay.

“I told him that another reporter from our newspaper was already covering the conference, and it’s not like I needed to leave the area,” Timberlake said. “It was not especially dangerous. Although there was a sniper stationed out front, there was a lot of furniture in between us, and the gunman and the owner and his daughter were just going about their work refinishing furniture in the back.”

The reporter was the only one ordered to evacuate the store.

“They treated the press differently than how they treated other citizens,” Timberlake said. “The civilians in the store were not told to leave, but I was.”

A deputy arrested the reporter upon his refusal to leave for obstruction of a peace officer.

The reporter said he was then handcuffed by a sergeant from the sheriff’s department and detained for 20 minutes outside the building. He was then held another 20 minutes in a deputy’s car before being escorted to his newspaper’s office.

Charges against Timberlake are pending with the district attorney’s office. The Fremont County Sheriff’s Department, which issued the summons and arrested Timberlake, would not comment. The Canon City Police Department, which called the sheriff’s department for assistance during the standoff, is handling charges against the reporter. Department officials were not available for comment.

Timberlake has not been formally booked, but the police department is considering formal charges, according to the district attorney. He is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 13.


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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