Reporter charged with criminal trespass
- Reporter Bryon Wells was charged after entering a gate while seeking comment from a former police officer involved in a shooting.
March 4, 2003 — The Scottsdale City Prosecutor charged an Arizona reporter with trespassing after he tried to get a comment from a former police officer facing murder charges in a shooting.
Bryon Wells, a reporter for the East Valley Tribune and the Scottsdale Tribune, was covering the Oct. 11, 2002 shooting of a woman who tried to pass a fraudulent prescription at a Walgreens pharmacy in Chandler. During the process, the woman was shot and killed, allegedly by former Chandler Police Officer Dan Lovelace. Lovelace was fired after the shooting.
Wells went to Lovelace’s home Nov. 6, 2002 to get the officer’s side of the story concerning whether the officer had just cause for shooting the woman.
Lovelace was scheduled to appear in court the next day on second-degree murder and endangerment charges. Wells said he wanted to get Lovelace’s comments regarding the charges.
Wells went to the officer’s home and saw a “no trespassing” sign on the unlocked gate. He walked into the yard and saw a woman doing yard work.
Wells said he introduced himself and told the woman the purpose for his presence — to give Lovelace another chance to talk about the incident. The woman said they were not making any comments and asked Wells to leave. He said he apologized for the intrusion and left the property.
Wells then received a call a few days before Christmas from a police officer, notifying him that criminal trespassing charges were brought against him.
“I was really shocked to have learned about all this,” Wells said. “I didn’t think it would go beyond the talk with the police.”
The case has been forwarded to the city prosecutors office. Wells is contesting the charge.
“Bryon went onto the property and tried to talk to a police officer who the next day was indicted for second degree murder,” according to Dan Barr, Wells’ attorney. “He was on the property for 15 to 20 seconds — this event of journalists going onto citizens’ property happens to journalists a thousand times per day.”
Barr explained that the Scottsdale City Attorney’s Office has taken over the case. The attorney’s office has compared Wells’ motives with those of a door-to-door vacuum salesman. Barr said this is where he scratches his head and does not understand how a reporter can be compared with a vacuum salesman.
Barr said Wells did not upset Lovelace’s rights to his land by coming onto the property. He added that Lovelace did have murder charges against him and that Bryon was just trying to let him tell his side of the story.
“My question is: How often the city prosecutes criminal trespassing complaints?” Wells said. “I could see the charges if I was there causing trouble, but just having the sign there doesn’t make a magical barrier where no one will cross it.”
Criminal trespassing is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, Wells could face up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Wells is scheduled to appear Mar. 26 in a Chandler Municipal Court.
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press