The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today applauded a decision by prosecutors in West Virginia to drop charges against Public News Service journalist Dan Heyman, who was arrested in May merely for attempting to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
The decision was announced by Heyman’s organization, Public News Service.
On May 9, the West Virginia Capitol Police arrested Heyman as he was walking near Price in a public hallway of a public building – the West Virginia State Capitol – and repeatedly asking Price a question about an Affordable Care Act repeal bill that was before Congress at the time. Heyman was charged with "willful disruption of governmental processes," a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
The next day, Price praised the West Virginia Capitol Police for arresting Heyman, stating, “That gentleman was not in a press conference.”
“As grateful as we are that West Virginia prosecutors finally dismissed charges against Mr. Heyman, the fact is that he never should have been arrested and charged in the first place,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads the task force. “It is not, nor it should it ever be, a crime for a journalist to fulfill his or her Constitutionally-guaranteed duty to ask questions of a public official in a public hallway of a public building.”
In a statement released shortly after the charges were dropped, Public News Service founder and CEO Lark Corbeil said, “Our leaders do not get to choose which freedoms to support; anyone who encourages arresting or assaulting journalists is assaulting our Constitution. Dan Heyman and the other journalists at Public News Service will never stop pursuing the stories that matter and asking the tough questions.”
RTDNA Chairman Vincent Duffy and Shelley were among the first to reach out to Corbeil in May to offer Heyman and Public News Service the task force’s help. RTDNA is available to assist any journalist or news organization facing press freedom challenges. Requests for help may be submitted to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force early this year to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. It is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats to press freedom in America.