THE INTIMIDATION OF THE INVECTIVE INCISORS: Despite shield laws such as the one passed in Hawai`i this year journalists and their news gathering efforts are under assault, from the arrest of Amy Goodman at last week’s Republican convention all the way to Kaua`i journalist Joan Conrow’s locked door question by the KPD.
The incident, as Conrow details at her popular local blog KauaiEclectic, describes her interrogation by the three top-ranking officers investigating a simple trespass case.
They locked her in a room and demanded she tell them what she saw, did and heard while reporting on a protest on Aug 7 when eight people pipe-locked themselves together with a “blackbear” device in the Naue seaside graveyard where a vacation-rental is under construction.
Conrow described it this way:
So there I was, with the three top officers in the Patrol Services Bureau arrayed in a semi-circle around me, all armed, in their badges and uniforms, and Arinaga starts off by saying they wanted to talk to me about the Aug. 7 protest over the burials at Naue because they had a lot of photographs taken at the site with people they couldn’t identify, and I was there, wasn’t I? And then he added, before I could waffle, we were just reading your website where you wrote all about it.
I asked if I’d be incriminating myself if I answered and Arinaga said, no, we’re just having a little chat here, so I said, yes, I was there. Then they wanted to know how I’d heard about it, and were other reporters contacted, too, and did I know who had brought the “blackbears” that the protesters used to link themselves together and did I know all the people at the protest or the guys who came from other islands and was Palikapu Dedman a “personal acquaintance” of mine — whatever that means, because aren’t all acquaintances inherently personal? — and finally, did I cover all the protests on the island and was I planning to cover the court hearing on the motion for an injunction to stop construction of Joe Brescia’s house at Naue?
And all the while I'm wondering if they going to arrest me, and if so, did I have enough cash in my purse to post bail, and I was hungry and shaking cold from the AC and I needed to pee. After about 30 or 40 minutes, Ollie walked me to the door, unlocked it and I was free.
Though the protesters left by themselves, Joan reports and we’ve confirmed that at least three of those protesters were arrested at home Friday night after they were threatened with being subject to an arrest warrant in the press the day after the event- a story Conrow broke..
As the protesters worried would happen, despite their requests to let them know when and if they were charged and expressed willingness to come in to pay a $50 bail, they arrested them- unannounced, at they homes, after 5 p.m. on a Friday night.
One of those arrested, Jim Huff of Kapa`a, heard about the first arrest on the North shore and had his wife call the department while he took a shower saying he’d be there right away.
She said she was assured by KPD office Rezentes that he would be allowed to turn himself in. But minutes later officers showed up, handcuffed him and took him to be booked, refusing to even let him drive his own car so he wouldn’t need a chauffeur..
Conrow describes her experience in harrowing detail, not knowing what to do although knowing she was being questioned like she was some kind of co-conspirator in a federal case.
Most journalists like to think they’d have their wits about them and not be taken off guard, We’d hope to be self-aware and unrattled and remind them of a journalist’s ethics regarding unpublished newsgathering- it’s not something one shares with the police.
And the news shield law supposedly protects journalists against this type of abuse and harassment.
The theory behind shield laws is that if people thought the press was working for the police few would ever talk to a journalist. There would be no reporting, just press releases.
If this type of question methodology isn’t a violation of KPD policy one would have to wonder why not... and think “what exactly is?”.
If the three officers are not at least reprimanded for interrogating a woman with the door closed and no other woman present it won’t be a surprise to ex-Kaua`i reporter Anthony Sommer whose new book has KPD and the rest of the county government on edge.
“KPD Blue”, which was finally released in full on Monday, describes all sorts of sexism, racism, bigotry and downright corrupt behavior that make this incident seem routine. PNN’s serializing of the book continues with Chapter 5 this weekend.
As in his book Sommer doesn’t pull any punches in his analysis of this incident either. In a email he told us:
"The sad part is that the KPD middle management is only proving that by winning their long political battle to rid themselves of outsiders and place one of 'their own' in the chief's office the end result is maintaining a very ugly status quo.
"There will be no change, there will be no reform, there will be no respect for the rule of law and the rights of individuals. The KPD middle management is and will remain simply a gang of thugs in blue.
"For a senior KPD officer and his swaggering sidekicks to gang up on her (or any reporter) behind locked doors after business hours in police headquarters and attempt to mentally rubber hose her into giving them the names of her news sources is something out of a 1930s gangster movie (probably used as training films at the KPD Academy).
"And as a tactic for gaining police intelligence, it's pretty damned stupid. A reporter may swap information but never will burn a source by revealing the source's name.
"A smart cop should know it's a violation of Hawaii's Reporter Shield Law to even ask the question.
"For Arinaga to then tell her what a nice guy he is because he could have had her arrested and hauled in for questioning is an unconscionable lie. What's the crime? Where's the probable cause to justify the arrest? And where are her Miranda rights? Total macho bullshit. And all too typical.
"Even more sad is that all you'll hear is silence from those public officials on Kauai who should be criticizing the police for their conduct in this situation and disciplining those responsible.
"Has His Interim Honor the interim mayor voiced his concern? Has the new, improved Police Chief hauled Arinaga on the carpet for a butt-chewing? Has the watch dog Police Commission promised an investigation? Is the ever-vigilant Ethics Commission looking into it? What about The Great Police Reformer currently running for mayor?
"On Kauai, only the sounds of silence (with apologies to Paul Simon)."
PNN has learned through reliable sources that the KPD also contacted The Garden Island (TGI) newspaper asking for pictures and information gathered at the protest. Editor Adam Harju told us today he cannot comment at this time.
Kaua`i county spokesperson Mary Daubert said she was unable to get a response by press time to an email sent this morning asking for comment from KPD on the incident.
No one minds sharing information with the police of the “they went that-a-way”. nature after a bank robbery.
But this incident appears to be way beyond the pale. Bringing a journalist into a little locked room with three big men in blue- no matter how “nice” they were- and asking for more details of a story she covered as a reporter violates the state shield law and can’t have been KPD policy before the law went into effect this year either.
The irony is that Joan has been one of new KPD Chief Darryl Perry’s biggest supporters since he became Chief last year.
Recently, community activists got into a verbal battle in the press over what people said was his over-militarization of the force through the recent purchases of tasers, riot gear and a mobile incident command center vehicle.
Conrow stood by Perry as a reformer and someone who would never condone this type of activity from his officers but the dust up resulted in columnist Juan Wilson’s firing from TGI after he criticized the martial marshaling.
The chief has a weekly column too where he takes questions from the public. So hey-Darryl, we gotcha question right hea.