Questions land Mountain Messenger contributor in jail

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By Chris Thomas

Reporter Dan Heyman, who covers West Virginia and Virginia for Public News Service, was arrested inside the State Capitol in Charleston on Tuesday afternoon.

Heyman was at the Capitol to cover a visit by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, as well as the protesters gathered there. The official complaint accuses Heyman of “causing a disturbance by yelling questions” at Price.

Valerie Woody, who was there as outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said Price’s entourage was moving quickly through a hallway and Heyman was scurrying after them.

“I saw nothing in his behavior, I heard nothing that indicated any kind of aggressive behavior or anything like that,” she said. “Just simple, you know, trying to get somebody’s attention and ask them a question. It seems to me there was no violation of anyone’s space, or physicality, other than the arrest itself.”

Price was at the Capitol to meet with state lawmakers and others about the opioid epidemic.

Heyman was released Tuesday night on a $5,000 bond. His attorney, Tim DiPiero, said the charge, “willful disruption of governmental processes,” is based on what he called a “vague” statute, and that Heyman was just doing his job as a journalist.

Kristen O’Sullivan also saw the arrest and recorded it on her phone. She said she was at the Capitol to protest the American Health Care Act as a breast-cancer survivor who is concerned about future coverage limitations for people with pre-existing medical conditions. O’Sullivan didn’t know the reporter, who she said was grabbed by the back of the neck and put against a wall by Capitol security officers.

“And it’s a shame,” she said, “to see not only the fact that we may be losing the ability for ourselves to get our pre-existing conditions covered, but we’re losing out on the First Amendment. We can’t even report on that anymore.”

She described Heyman as continuing to ask questions – including asking Price why he wasn’t answering them.

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) released the following statements: “This a dangerous time in our country. Freedom of the press is being eroded every day. We have a President who calls the media “fake news” and resists transparency at every turn. And today, a reporter was arrested for trying to ask a question to members of President Trump’s administration. Mr. Heyman’s arrest is a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press. The charges against him are outrageous, and they must be dropped immediately.”

“By asking Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway whether domestic violence was considered a preexisting condition under President Trump’s healthcare proposal, Dan Heyman was doing his job as a reporter. He was fulfilling that sacred role of the media in a democratic state of holding our elected officials accountable regarding the vital issues of the day. And for that, he was arrested.”

“What President Trump’s administration is forgetting, and what the Capitol Police forgot today, is that the government works for us. 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.”

Mountain Media runs Dan Heyman’s articles  in the Mountain Messenger on a regular basis.