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Salt Lake City prosecutor drops fuel leak charges against reporter

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    NMU         UTAH         Newsgathering         May 14, 2002    

Salt Lake City prosecutor drops fuel leak charges against reporter

  • A Deseret News reporter faced a charge of “unauthorized discharge” for failing to notify fire officials about a spill outside of the newspaper office.

Prosecutors in Salt Lake City dropped charges against a Deseret News reporter after accusing him of failing to report a diesel fuel spill near his newspaper’s building.

City prosecutors had charged Jerry Spangler on Feb. 7 under an “unauthorized discharge” law, a misdemeanor violation. Spangler, who wrote a story for his newspaper the day after the Jan. 3 spill, said he was not notified of the charge until April 2.

A delivery mistake caused more than 400 gallons of fuel to leak into the basement of the Deseret News. A supplier delivered the fuel to the News instead of to the neighboring Newspaper Agency Corp., the company that handles the joint operating agreement between the News and The Salt Lake Tribune. The fuel overflowed because the News‘ storage tank was full.

Spangler interviewed an official with the state Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management, who told the reporter to contact the city’s fire department about the spill. The next day, Spangler called fire officials, who confirmed that no one, including the state official and newspaper officials, reported the spill.

Salt Lake City Prosecutor Simarjit Gill only filed charges against Spangler, who planned to fight the charges on First Amendment grounds. A state judge dismissed the charges on May 13 at Gill’s request.


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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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