State trooper arrests reporter at accident scene
OKLAHOMA–Sapulpa Herald police reporter Bob Sherrill was arrested at the scene of an automobile accident in Sapulpa, Okla. in late April, after an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper accused him of obstructing the work of emergency personnel trying to free a person pinned in the wreckage.
Sherrill’s camera and film were confiscated, and he was handcuffed and jailed for three hours.
In early May, Sherrill pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer in the line of duty at the Tulsa County District Court. The hearing will take place sometime in June.
Sherrill arrived at the accident scene and began taking photographs. He said he was not interfering with the emergency work and was never closer than 25 feet to the scene, according to Herald editor Don Diehl.
Trooper Ed Rentie, who allegedly had been directing drivers to keep moving past the scene, approached Sherrill and demanded to know who he was. The reporter explained that he is a member of the working press and displayed his identification. However, Rentie demanded that Sherrill vacate the area immediately, according to Diehl.
When Sherrill protested, explaining his need to take photos for the newspaper, the trooper allegedly approached and said, “There will be no pictures taken here,” Diehl said.
As Sherrill was leaving the accident scene, he turned to snap more pictures. At that moment, Rentie handcuffed the journalist, arrested him and took him to prison. Although his camera was confiscated, it was returned to the newspaper later the same day so that the photos could be published.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Gerald Davidson said that Rentie believed that the photographer was getting in the way of emergency personnel, according to Associated Press reports.
However, Sherrill insists that he was not interfering and the newspaper feels that the trooper was “out of control,” according to editor Diehl. “It’s very upsetting for us to feel our newspaper has been jailed,” Diehl said.
Sherrill said that the trooper cinched the handcuffs too tightly and abrasions remained, according to AP reports. He plans to file a separate civil suit against Rentie.
Diehl reports that the paper has many eyewitnesses as well as character witnesses that will corroborate Sherrill’s testimony. According to Diehl, even a formal apology will not be enough to satisfy him. “It’s a deeper issue … our constitutional rights have been violated,” he said. (State of Oklahoma, County of Tulsa v. Robert Donald Sherrill; Media Counsel: W. Creekmore Wallace, II)