In my experience, a reporter, like a police officer, is always ‘on the job’.
I was out last Friday evening, dressed in a pirate costume with my sidekick of 25 years, Billie the parrot. We had been invited to greet people at the ‘Real Pirates’ exhibition at the Manitoba Museum. My good friend from The Rag Factory (formerly Ragpickers), Kristen Andrews, jumped at the opportunity to suit me up for the event.
After the event, I check out the opening of The Goodwill Cafe (formerly Pop Soda’s Coffeehouse) on Portage Avenue.
After that, a friend and I go to the Pyramid Cabaret to catch The Farrell Brothers.
When I leave the Pyramid, I notice a fire truck in the next block. I hop in my car to head home, but when I go to turn the corner, there’s not only a fire truck, but an ambulance and a few police cars also. As the street is blocked, I park my car and proceed to check out the ‘action’ in front of the Windsor Hotel.
I take my first photos at 2:13 a.m. As I walk up the street, an unmarked police truck shows up and two officers get out and go into the bar.
When they exit a few minutes later, I notice one of them has an assault rifle. They get into their vehicle and rush off. My fourth photo is at 2:16 a.m. of the unmarked police vehicle after the officers get back in.
As I get closer, I see a man on a stretcher being loaded into the ambulance. There are a few police officers standing around. I start taking photos and asking people what happened. No one really knows.
About twenty feet past the entrance, I see a man standing holding tissue to his face. There’s a pool of blood in front of him. I approach him and ask what happened. He says he doesn’t know. He has quite the gash on his lip.
I walk away from him, trying to piece the story together. I pass two police officers, inform them that I’m a reporter and ask what happened. They’re also tight lipped. I tell them about the fellow who is bleeding and they go to him.
I follow as I turn on my recorder and stand close by. One of the police officers tells me to leave, saying it’s private business.
I weigh the police officer’s request for me to leave, against the fact this is all happening on a public sidewalk. As a reporter, I am aware that I shouldn’t get in the way, and should stay back, which is what I do.
I say to the officer it is a public street and I have every right to be there. He threatens to arrest me for causing a disturbance. The other officer also says I will be arrested for obstruction of justice.
After standing my ground, they back off.
I listen as the police question the man who is bleeding. He says he had gone to the bar to purchase beer and was asked to leave. I hear him tell the officers that the bar employee didn’t give him a reason, to which the officer replies it’s a private business and they don’t have to give him a reason. They finish questioning him and then go into the hotel.
A few minutes later, about six police officers come out of the hotel. I snap another photo of the whole scene with the man they questioned in the foreground by the pool of blood. One of the officers yells, “Why are you taking pictures?” I tell him, “I’m a reporter.” He asks for who, and I tell him Community News Commons, and present him with my card.
He says I should ask before taking a picture. He says he doesn’t know who I am and that I could be a biker and may post pictures of police. (Remember, I’m dressed as a pirate with a parrot on my shoulder).
When I say it’s a public street and he’s a public servant and I’m just doing my job, he tells me to f**k off and to move along because he doesn’t “want me here.” I respond that I think he is pretty rude and unprofessional.
Then, he and his partner walk towards me and back me off past two other bystanders. I ask the officer if he’s going to tell the other bystanders to leave also, and he says, “no.”
The officers go back towards the hotel. I retreat even further and take a picture of the whole scene.
The officer who told me to f**k off yells out that I’m under arrest for intimidation. He doesn’t read me my rights as he puts handcuffs on me and takes my camera away. He tells me I don’t look like a reporter, and then calls me a goof and a nutbag.
I tell him I’m sorry, and he says the only way he’s going to let me go, and I’m going to get my camera back, is if I delete every picture of police officers. I tell him I will.
“I know I offended you,” he continues. “I’m not gonna stand around and let someone take my picture. I don’t care who you are.”
Then he says again, I look like a nutbag (9906 in police code). I tell him again that I did identify myself and gave him my card, but he says that anyone can make up a card like that.
The handcuffs come off and I show him the photos I took. I don’t delete any of the photos.
The officer starts to be a little more civil with me. I offer to shake his hand. We shake hands and part ways.
I felt intimidated, humiliated and insulted. I believe I did absolutely nothing wrong. I had identified myself, didn’t interfere with their work, and kept my distance. Police would not comment further on the incident.
I understand it is tough being a police officer. In this day and age, so many people have cameras and are taking pictures. I think this is a good thing, because I, or someone else, may take a photo which could help the police. Look how many citizen videos and photos have been used as evidence in many cases.
I wonder, based on my experience that night, if this incident can used to better equip citizen reporters who are covering stories, and at the same time, be used by police in their training of officers who are dealing with the public and the media at a crime scene.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer
Editor’s note: This incident provides citizen journalists with the opportunity to learn how a reporter/photographer should cover a crime scene. This will be one of the topics of discussion at CNC workshops on Mon. Nov. 3 and 10 at Millennium Library’s Carol Shields Auditorium from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Click here to register for these and other free multi-media workshops running until the end of November.