Reporter convicted of criminal trespass
- Bryon Wells was charged after he went through a gate to seek comments from a former police officer involved in a shooting.
May 22, 2003 — The Chandler City Court Wednesday convicted an Arizona reporter with criminal trespass for trying to get a comment from a former police officer facing murder charges in a shooting.
Bryon Wells, a reporter for the East Valley Tribune, was sentenced to one year unsupervised probation and was fined $300.
The incident for which Wells was convicted occurred while he 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 indicted 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 courtyard and went to the front door and rang the doorbell.
Lovelace’s wife, Tricia Debbs, exited the house from the side entrance and approached Wells, who said he introduced himself and told the woman the purpose for his presence — to give Lovelace another chance to talk about the incident. Debbs told him 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.
At trial, the prosecution argued that because the Lovelaces had a “no trespassing” sign, Wells was violating the law when he entered the gate.
In their post-trial brief to the court, Wells’ attorneys noted that other courts in the region have held that a “no trespassing” sign alone is inadequate to “exclude visitors from lawfully making contact with the occupants of the house.”
They also argued that in order for Wells to be convicted of first-degree trespassing, he would have had to have entered the property knowing that his actions were unlawful.
“Wells did not believe he was doing anything unlawful by walking directly to Lovelace’s front door to ask for his comment,” they wrote.
“This is an issue that affects all journalists,” Daniel C. Barr, Wells’ attorney, told the East Valley Tribune. “It affects everybody’s right to know.”
Wells will be appealing the case, according to Barr.
(Arizona v. Wells; Media Counsel: Daniel C. Barr, Brown & Bain, P.A., Phoenix) — JL
- Reporter charged with criminal trespass (3/4/2003)
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press