Chicago police took two members of the media into custody Saturday, including an NBC Chicago photographer.
Photographer Donte Williams and WGN Reporter Dan Ponce were detained as they attempted to cover the story of a 6-year-old girl who was shot and killed. Crews were standing on a sidewalk outside Mt. Sinai Hospital, where the girl had been taken.
The hospital apparently called police, complaining of trespassers. The news crews, at the request of police officers, said they had already moved from a public sidewalk directly in front of the hospital, to a median halfway across the street.
But police disputed that, saying hospital security guards told them news crews had tried to get past them into a secure area of the hospital. Reporters say they did not go into the hospital.
"I went over to the hopsital with community activist Andrew Holmes and went up to the front door of the hospital. Family members were there and they were obviously upset," said NBC Chicago Reporter Christian Farr. "I stared right at security guards who stared right at me and never said anything to me. I never went into the hospital."
Ponce backed up that take of what happened.
"What upset me about last night was this was not an active crime scene," Ponce said on WLS Radio. "This is in front of a hospital. The reporters and photographers were standing on the median sidewalk when the officer started yelling at us, telling us to get further away. We decided to take a stand."
Police held Williams and Ponce for about 10 minutes. The officer who handcuffed them is recorded on camera warning members of the media that their First Amendment rights could be terminated.
"Your First Amendment rights can be terminated if you're creating a scene or whatever," the officer said.
When asked how they were creating a scene, the officer said, "Your presence is creating a scene."
Williams and Ponce were released without any charges. The Chicago Police Department's media relations office, known as News Affairs, later released the following statement:
- "The Chicago Police Department did not charge anyone with criminal trespass in connection with yesterday's incident, which involved the unfortunate and senseless loss of a young child. We removed two individuals from the hospital at the request of hospital security guards, who asserted that the individuals had tried to go past them into secure and private areas of the hospital. The security guards declined to press charges and the individuals were released.
Our members were attempting to protect and respect both the grieving family members of the child, and the memory of the child herself during a very stressful time for all parties involved.
As always, we will carefully review the allegations in the event further action is warranted."