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Reporter investigating school security charged with trespassing

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Reporter investigating school security charged with trespassing

  • A school board in western New York pressed criminal trespassing charges against a local journalist who entered an unlocked door at an elementary school while investigating school security.

March 4, 2004 — A journalist in western New York was charged last week with criminal trespassing after writing a story about how he was able to roam through two local elementary schools.

On Feb.18, Mark Lindsay, police reporter for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, was investigating weaknesses in school security when he entered Newfane Elementary School and Lockport’s George M. Southard Elementary School. In a story printed the following Sunday, Feb. 22, Lindsay reported how he was able to enter the schools through unlocked doors and roam freely through the buildings.

The Newfane Board of Education responded by voting unanimously to direct schools Superintendent James Mills to press charges against Lindsay. Lindsay turned himself in to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department on Feb. 26, and was issued a ticket of appearance but not incarcerated.

Lindsay was charged with third-degree trespassing, a misdemeanor, and is expected to be arraigned in court on Monday. According to New York state law, criminal trespassing in the third-degree is committed when a person enters a building in “violation of conspicuously posted rules or regulations governing entry and use thereof.”

“His activity does not rise to the level of criminal trespassing,” said Robert Scheffer, Lindsay’s attorney. “This is a case of retaliation by the school board.”

Scheffer said Lindsay saw no signs outside Newfane Elementary warning against entry.

In his article, Lindsay wrote that he was able to enter the school through a side door and was met by a school employee doing work in the area. She pointed him to the office, but did not escort him there. Lindsay then walked past the office and through each wing of the school unquestioned, despite being seen by at least one other school employee. He left on his own accord, the Journal reported.

The district attorney’s office would not comment on the charges.

“In this day and age, one would think it extremely disingenuous of the school board to react in this manner,” said Michelle Rhea, executive director for the New York Press Association. “The reporter correctly pointed out a problem, and the school should be developing a better policy instead of talking about how they’re going to arrest a reporter.”

The Journal has defended Lindsay’s article and accused the school board of retribution, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s disappointing that the entire point of the article seems to be lost on the board and the superintendent,” Denise Young, managing editor of the newspaper, told the AP.

Les Rogers, publisher of the Journal, declined to comment further, saying all employees of the paper have been advised not to speak publicly of the incident until after Lindsay’s arraignment.

Lindsay’s article focused on the security of elementary schools in five local districts. He wrote that staff members of four other area elementary schools almost immediately directed him into the school offices. Also, all doors except the front doors were locked at those schools.

If convicted, Lindsay could face up to 90 days in prison.

“Newspapers have a watchdog role to play in their communities,” Rhea said. “The school board is shooting the messenger instead of listening to the message.”

(People v. Lindsay; Media Counsel: Robert Scheffer, Lockport, N.Y.) MG

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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