First Amendment

Persistent journalist arrested while questioning HHS secretary; ACLU sees 'dark day for democracy'

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Tom Price

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A journalist was arrested in a hallway at the West Virginia Capitol on Tuesday while he repeatedly questioned Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about a change to the federal healthcare law.

The journalist, Dan Heyman of Public News Service, was charged with willful disruption of state government processes, a misdemeanor, and released on $5,000 bail, report the Washington Post, West Virginia Metro News and the Hill.

The complaint said West Virginia Capitol Police arrested Heyman because he was “aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents” and “causing a disturbance by yelling questions” at Price and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway. The complaint said the agents had been “forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building.”

Heyman said he was holding out his cellphone to record Price and repeatedly asking whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the health law changes. Price “didn’t say anything,” Heyman said at a later news conference. “So I persisted.”

Heyman said he was wearing a press badge and no police officer told him he was in the wrong place. In Heyman’s estimation, police “decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia released a series of statements (PDF) about the incident, including this one: “Today was a dark day for democracy. But the rule of law will prevail. The First Amendment will prevail. The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia stands ready to fight any attempt by the government to infringe upon our First Amendment rights.”

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