Daily Archives: December 16, 2007

Newspaper Reporter Arrested for Photographing a State Trooper

Newspaper Reporter Arrested Covering Story

Maumelle Monitor | Dec 11, 2007

By Bill Lawson

Editor’s Note: This is a first-person account of Bill Lawson’s arrest by a state trooper while attempting to take pictures at a house fire in Maumelle on Monday evening.

MAUMELLE — Having lived 59 years, battled cancer, worn the country’s uniform for 26 years and proudly worked as a journalist — a profession I always admired — I thought I’d seen it all. That is until Monday night, when I was arrested and charged with a criminal offense just for trying to do my job and take photos of a residential fire in Maumelle.

Being arrested, searched, having my camera, reporter’s notebook and billfold confiscated, humiliated in front of friends and people I write about every week was a difficult way to be arrested for the first time in my life. The only other time I wore a pair of handcuffs was 10 years ago during a training class at the Law Enforcement Training Academy in Camden.

When I was told that I was being arrested it seemed like a dream. I knew I’d done nothing wrong. But I knew better than to argue with a state trooper who obviously had an attitude.

Although I was arrested and handcuffed, not once was I read my rights. In fact, the State Police trooper told me I was being charged with obstructing governmental operations and one other offense. I can’t remember what the second one was. It was such an incredulous feeling to be stopped from doing my job, much less to be arrested, that it was difficult to consider what was really happening.

All I was doing was what Capt. Gloria Weakland, State Police Troop A commander, advised me to do when I inquired via telephone months back about a fatality accident near Cabot and talked to her about covering the news. Capt. Weakland told me that I was welcome at any accident or incident scene and for me to approach the trooper there and identify myself with the news media and that I would have access to do my job.

That’s all I was trying to do Monday evening. I didn’t think the trooper in Maumelle had seen the press credential on my windshield and I approached him as she suggested to let him know who I was and why I was there. That’s when he said he was going to arrest me for approaching him. He told me that he saw the press sign on my windshield and the ID around my neck but that it didn’t mean anything to him.

Life has been difficult for me since my battle with cancer. The cancer, radiation treatments and multiple surgeries have all left their marks on me. Thank God I’m cancer-free, but I’m not half the young man who used to run the 100-yard dash in 10.2 seconds. In fact, this past weekend has been one of the most painful in my life. The medicine that I still must take often depletes my potassium and my muscles hurt so badly it’s very difficult to move. I actually have to hold on to something to pull my way in and out of my vehicle so that I don’t generate more pain in my legs. I use my arms and hands as much as possible to keep from using my legs to even lift me out of chairs because of the pain.

Of course, being overweight makes it even more difficult. For the first two years of my battle with cancer, I had to take steroid shots along with the 18 different kinds of medicine, to even feel like getting out of bed. A combination of the cancer’s damage to my kidneys, bladder and colon and the steroids added about 100 pounds to my already large frame. But I tell people everyday that I’d rather be fat and alive than skinny and dead. My physician tells me that some of the kidney medicine I take contributes to the retention of fluids in spite of other medicine to help relieve that problem.

The combination of medical problems and being overweight makes for a slow-moving wide body. Walking is a chore and an occasional run or climbing stairs leaves me breathless. After being handcuffed and forced to stand still for more than 30 minutes beside his Arkansas State Police vehicle with unit number A-54 on it, I couldn’t move a muscle. When I squirmed, the trooper was yelling at me to stop resisting. Standing with my arms behind me was difficult and painful to the point of being unbearable. I know what resisting is and I did nothing that could be considered that. The too-tight handcuffs hurt my wrists and I have scratches from them on my right arm where the trooper hit it while slapping the handcuffs on me. All of that and the pain of standing still for so long was unbearable, but I knew better than to complain or suffer the trooper’s wrath.

His demeanor was abusive, intimidating and downright scary.

Some of my friends on the Maumelle Fire Department came over to check on me. I was still 50 to 75 yards away from the minor fire and they all wondered what was going on. They asked if they could help and I told my publisher’s son-in-law, who is a firefighter, to call him in case I needed to be bailed out of jail. The firemen later told me they couldn’t believe I had been arrested for attempting to take photos far away from the fire. In fact, they called the Maumelle Police Department to come and check on me because they said they were worried about me.

After my boss’ son-in-law left, the trooper came over and asked if I was somebody special. I told him no, I’m just a reporter. Then he wanted to know whom I asked the fireman to call and I explained that it was my boss. He then asked which newspaper I worked for and I tried to explain that I worked for several newspapers owned by Stephens Media. He wanted to argue with me, telling me I’d mentioned a specific newspaper earlier. Every time I tried to explain, the trooper would interrupt me, like a trial attorney would do when they’re trying to discredit you.

I wanted to tell him that I needed to sit down but I was afraid he’d charge me with something else, or worse. After all, he had the gun and authority of a state trooper and I was just a journalist with a notepad and a camera. As mad as he was, I feared for my safety. He had roughed me up a little bit, pulling my left hand behind my back and then demanding that I let go of the camera in my right hand. I wasn’t about to drop a $1,500 camera with a $400 strobe light on it. He grabbed it and yelled at me until I let it go. He took it, walked off behind me and later placed the camera on the trunk of his vehicle.

After he visited with several Maumelle police officers, he came up to me and asked me, “If I take these handcuffs off you, are you going to behave?”

I was stunned. From the moment he told me to turn around because I was under arrest for taking his photo, I attempted to follow his every command for fear of what he might do. I was handcuffed and defenseless. Not that I’d have tried to resist; I have too much respect for law enforcement officers to do that, even when I know I didn’t do anything wrong.

As I was handcuffed, he tried to tell me that I’d stuck the camera “up in my face, inches from my nose, snapping it over and over attempting to blind me.” I tried to explain that the camera had been set on motor drive in order to capture the firefighters in action and that I had actually only snapped it once. He wanted to argue and said that I held it down for 10 seconds or longer, telling me that he knew all about cameras.

Even hours after the arrest, it all seems like a dream. A very bad dream. Maumelle Police Chief Sam Williams told me that I should file a complaint against the state trooper. I told him that wasn’t my style because I have so much respect for all police officers and the difficult jobs they do.

I’ve worked closely with state troopers and count many of them as friends. In April 2006 when a trooper sergeant died out on a roadblock, I was so inspired when I attended his funeral in Searcy that I wrote a newspaper column tribute to him and all troopers, entitled “The Thin Blue Line,” that ended up being reprinted in the Arkansas State Police Association’s magazine.

After the episode, Chief Williams told me he might have yelled at me if he thought I’d overstepped my bounds, but he said he certainly wouldn’t have arrested me for just doing my job.

Standing on a public street in a city where I’ve covered much more serious fires than this one, I couldn’t have believed that my First Amendment rights to cover and report the news would have been abridged. Even worse than the painful handcuffing episode, the state trooper turned me around so that I could not even see the firefighters in action putting out the fire. That was adding insult to injury. Now I can’t even report on their outstanding efforts to save a home — because I wasn’t allowed to see it and I can’t report what I didn’t see.

Bill Lawson covers Pulaski County government for Stephens Media’s Central Arkansas Newspapers, but currently is assigned to Maumelle.

Advertisements

The disgraceful treatment of our veterans

 

McClatchy | Dec 13, 2007

By Joseph L. Galloway

As you do your holiday shopping this year and think about a big turkey dinner and piles of gifts and the good life that most Americans enjoy, please spare a thought for those who made it all possible: Those who serve in our military and the veterans who’ve worn the uniform.

There are some new statistics that give us reason to be ashamed for the way that our country has treated those who’ve served and sacrificed for us.

Those statistics damn the politicians who start every speech by thanking the troops and veterans and blessing them. They indict our national leaders who turn up at military bases and the annual conventions of veteran’s organizations and use troops and veterans as a backdrop for their photo-ops.

Consider this:

  • An average of 18 veterans commit suicide each and every day of the year, according to recent statistics from the Veterans Administration (VA). That’s 126 veterans who kill themselves every week. Or some 6,552 who take their own lives each year. Our veterans are killing themselves at twice the rate of other Americans.
  • One quarter of the homeless people in America are military veterans. That’s one in every four. Is that ragged man huddled on the steam grate in a brutal winter wind a Vietnam vet? Did that younger man panhandling for pocket change on the street corner fight in Kandahar or Fallujah?

For the past four years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been insisting that it’s doing everything it needs to for the nation’s veterans. That’s simply not true, particularly when it comes to the VA’s treatment of mental health issues.

As my McClatchy colleague Chris Adams has reported in a series of groundbreaking stories this year, the VA mental health system — even by its own measures — wasn’t prepared to give returning veterans the mental health care they need.

The experts say that between 20 and 30 percent of all troops returning from combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But many of VA hospitals didn’t have the special PTSD programs that experts say are vital. Soldiers returning from Iraq are allowed to slip unnoticed into their old lives, and neither the Department of Defense nor the VA does anything to monitor their mental health.

The VA keeps telling Congress that all is well. That’s not true, either. As Adams reported, the VA has been using fudged or inflated numbers to do so. And after years of promising that it’s getting a growing backlog of disability compensation applications under control, things actually got worse this year.

No matter whether they’ve been wounded and need follow-up care and support, or whether they’re coming apart at the seams and feeling suicidal, they sometimes must wait months for an appointment to be evaluated and treated at VA medical centers.

The same people who don’t blink at spending $3 billion a week on their war of choice in Iraq were the ones who cut the VA budget and privatized maintenance at Walter Reed Army Hospital and opposed every attempt to expand benefits for veterans old and young.

They’re the same people who turned a blind eye as their corporate sponsors and private donors looted billions of dollars from the Treasury with no-compete contracts and bloated bills for everything from food for the troops to fuel for their tanks and trucks.

As a wave of wounded troops suffering brain injuries from the blasts of roadside bombs and landmines poured into military hospitals, these people, posing as fiscally responsible budget makers, were cutting in half the money spent on research into brain injuries.

These frauds who love to pose as wartime leaders sat back and did nothing as a cruel bureaucracy sent bill collectors out to harass double amputee veterans for thousands of dollars because they neglected to turn their armored vests and other gear in to the supply sergeant after they were blown apart on the battlefield.

They did nothing as the Army became ever more conservative, even stingy, in the number of injured and wounded soldiers it judged worthy of full disability pensions. Soldiers who suffered brain injuries and PTSD so severe that they couldn’t function were put on the street with a 30 percent disability pension — $700 a month — to support a wife and three children.

Neglecting our war veterans and the widows and orphans that result from our wars is as American as apple pie. It’s nothing new. But in the past we always waited until after the war’s end to forget those who’d fought the war.

This may be the first time in our history that we began to neglect and forget our troops during a war.

All of this is shameful — shameful for a people whose freedom and prosperity rests on the backs of those soldiers but who’ve forgotten them so completely that they haven’t held their Congress and their president responsible for this stain on our honor.

The next smarmy politician who shouts, “God bless our troops” ought to be tarred and feathered and ridden out of Washington on a rail for sheer hypocrisy.

School could get Scotland’s first “talking” Big Brother CCTV cameras

BIG BROTHER-STYLE WARNING FOR SCHOOL VANDALS

This is Aberdeen | Dec 15, 2007

A School that was almost burned down by vandals could get Scotland’s first “talking” CCTV cameras.

A Big Brother-style loudspeaker system could soon warn off troublemakers like those who set fire to Peterhead’s Clerkhill Primary during this year’s summer break.

The Buchan school was extensively damaged by the blaze. And it was hit for a second time last month, when thugs started a small fire at a doorway.

The pilot security scheme would link up to the school’s existing CCTV.

Guards monitoring the system could issue warnings to troublemakers through loudspeakers.

The aim is to scare off vandals with a disembodied voice in the darkness.

And litterbugs could be told: “Pick that up and put it in the bin.” If successful at Clerkhill, the system could be rolled out across Aberdeenshire.

Britain’s first talking CCTV cameras were introduced England in April.

The Peterhead plan was discussed at a meeting of members of the education service and Grampian Police.

Filmaker to give pope a makeover

Pope Benedict needs a makeover. He comes across as too cold, flaunts too much bling and his robes are too flashy Zeffirelli says


Telegraph | Dec 16, 2007

By Malcolm Moore in Rome

Franco Zeffirelli, the film director, is in talks to head a special Vatican unit that will revitalise the image of the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI.

Mr Zeffirelli, 84, whose film Jesus of Nazareth won papal approval from Paul VI in 1977, said Pope Benedict was upset at the “continual blasphemies” made by the media.

A stream of television movies and films such as Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, and The Da Vinci Code, had left “deep and irreversible wounds” on the Church’s image, he said.

“Pope Ratzinger is aware that the way the Church is portrayed in the cinema is terrible. He has brought order back to doctrine and liturgy and will not tolerate this shameful anarchy in the representation of the sacred,” he said.

He added that the Pope’s own image needed overhauling.

“Benedict still comes across as quite cold, which is a problem in his job,” said Mr Zeffirelli.

“It is a problem I have discussed with key people in the Vatican. Even his wardrobe needs to be reviewed. The papal robes are too opulent and flashy.”

The film director said he was impressed by Benedict’s sobriety and that he was close to the Pope and other Vatican figures.

“I am in continual contact with his inner circle. The Holy Father honours me with his esteem.”

He had discussed the Church’s image problems with his “great friends Cardinal Camillo Ruini and Rino Fisichella, the auxiliary bishop of Rome, my great friends.”

They had drawn up a “proposal” for “an office at the Vatican for defending sacred images”.

He added: “I am at the Pope’s disposition. I must have full authority to strike at the continual blasphemies which are made by those who try to popularise the Christian message.”

He said the Church had finally realised that images are capable of “wounding our values”.

“I often hear repeated in the Vatican that these so-called holy films are a horror that the Holy See does not know how to control. If they give me an official job, I will give myself to it full-time,” he added.

Mr Zeffirelli, who has devoted himself in recent times to staging operas, and is about to open a production of La Traviata in Rome, has directed holy ceremonies at the Vatican in the past.

Gutless Gordon Brown signs over Britain’s rights to Europe

“This is just about the most thoroughly dishonest political process I have ever been witness to. This is a constitutional treaty with profound, far-reaching implications and for the British Government to pretend it is something it isn’t and deny us a referendum is monstrous.”

– MEP Nigel Farage

GLOATING TRAITOR: Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Express.co.uk | Dec 13, 2007

By Jack Teague

GUTLESS Gordon Brown today handed over control of Britain’s immigration policy to Europe as he signed the controversial EU reform treaty in Lisbon.

Failed asylum seekers facing deportation from the UK could now appeal decisions and take their cases to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

It means unelected EU judges will be able to decide whether failed asylum seekers can remain in Britain. Applicants will even be able pick-up benefits paid for by taxpayers waiting for their verdict

The Government has previously admitted that the average bill for supporting such people is £129-a-week.

With more than 150,000 appeals heard in Britain every year, the bill for the taxpayer could go into tens of millions of pounds.

The treaty takes the place of the proposed EU Constitution, which was scrapped two years ago, after being rejected out of hand by France and Holland.

Neil O’Brien of Open Europe, an independent think tank who analyse Britain’s relationship with the EU, insisted the UK is signing up to the rejected constitution anyway, and by doing so is giving away its right to govern itself.

He said: “By signing us up to the rejected Constitution, Gordon Brown is giving EU courts the right to hear asylum cases.

“This could mean that decisions made by UK courts to deport failed asylum seekers will be overturned by Brussels.”

Under the treaty, the EU will also get a permanent president and a foreign minister – who will have the power to represent Britain at the UN.

To add to Mr Brown’s embarrassment, he was appearing in front of a House of Commons committee earlier today and missed the official ceremony, instead opting to send Foreign Secretary David Milliband to the event.

Mr Brown finally arrived in Portugal, hours later all of the other EU leaders and had to put his signature on the treaty behind closed doors.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague believes that the PM’s late show in Lisbon made a bad situation even worse.

He said: “Gordon Brown has left Britain with the worst of all worlds today.

“With a stroke of a pen he has signed away a swathe of powers to the EU, but his sulky rudeness to our European partners means that he has actually managed to lose influence in Brussels.

“This latest blunder is another sign that Gordon Brown is struggling to cope as Prime Minister.

Liberal Democrat leadership contender Chris Huhne , a former Member of the European Parliament echoed Mr Hague’s views.

He said: “Gordon Brown’s no-show in Lisbon will please no one at home while raising serious questions about his good faith among our partners.

“This is inept and peevish behaviour that leaves Gordon Brown’s reputation for honest dealing with our EU partners hanging by a thread.

“The EU is a key player in ensuring our national interests in tackling climate change, terrorism and globalisation are met, yet Mr Brown is treating our partners like mud.”

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said that when he spoke to Mr Miliband in Lisbon moments before the treaty was signed and repeated his demand for a referendum, he was given “a hollow laugh” in reply.

Mr Farage said: “This is just about the most thoroughly dishonest political process I have ever been witness to.

“This is a constitutional treaty with profound, far-reaching implications and for the British Government to pretend it is something it isn’t and deny us a referendum is monstrous.”

10,000 Scots stopped in random terror searches since July

Sunday Express | Dec 15,2007

Nearly 10,000 Scots have been searched by transport police since the terror attack on Glasgow Airport in June.

Officers have stopped 9,994 people and searched 4,636 vehicles at train stations across Scotland since July 1 up to Friday December 14.

Of those searched, 12% were from ethnic minorities but British Transport Police (BTP) said that no target profiling took place and all searches were random.

By contrast, Scotland’s eight police forces have stopped and searched just 84 people and 51 vehicles between them in 2007.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill called for an explanation as to why the BTP figures were so high.

Mr MacAskill said: “I think the public would be right to look for a clear explanation on why the British Transport Police in Scotland believe they need to use these powers with such regularity. It’s a genuine cause for concern.”

BTP can stop and search people at random using powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

In 2006/07, BTP officers carried out 30,000 stops throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

A BTP spokesman said: “These operations are carried out as a matter of routine to make the railways as difficult a target for terrorist activity as possible. We hope that, as well as disrupting and deterring possible terrorist activity, it will also provide visible reassurance to the travelling public that police are being vigilant for their safety.

“The terrorist threat remains high nationally and it is important that the police and public alike remain vigilant against possible terrorist activity.”

Brown rules out EU referendum as opponents begin 3-month battle to block treaty

British Prime-Minister Gordon Brown gloats as he signs the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon at the Museu dos Coches (Carriage Museum), Thursday, Dec. 13 2007, in Lisbon.

Daily Mail | Dec 14, 2007

By BENEDICT BROGAN

Gordon Brown ruled out a referendum on the new EU treaty today as critics warned he faces a three-month fight to get it through the Commons.

Battle lines were being drawn in Parliament as he flew back to Europe to make a plea for “no more treaties” while he is Prime Minister.

Mr Brown was embroiled in yet another summit, this time with the leaders gathering in Brussels to map out a new agenda for the future.

He aimed to push through a declaration by the European Union on policies to confront the issues thrown up by globalisation – including strong commitments to free trade and deregulation.

A detailed discussion paper from Mr Brown to the other 26 leaders set out a strongly pro-market manifesto for Europe.

The news comes after Mr Brown came under fire in Britain last night after he turned up late for a solo signing of the treaty hailed hours earlier by all his EU colleagues as a “vision of the future”.

Sitting alone in a deserted hall, he put his name to a document that gives up Britain’s veto in more than 60 areas and gives the EU the trappings of statehood.

His signature was the last to be added because all 26 other leaders and their foreign ministers had signed up in a lavish midday ceremony at which Foreign Secretary David Miliband flew the flag for Britain.

The Prime Minister took the shine off an occasion Brussels had planned as a showcase for a united Europe.

In Britain, his absence was seen as an attempt to cover his embarrassment at his failure to hold a referendum on the treaty, which is widely viewed as almost identical to the European Constitution on which the Government had pledged to hold a vote.

And in Brussels, his decision to skip the main event provoked a torrent of criticism, with diplomats warning he had left Britain looking petty and marginalised.

Done deal: David Milliband signs

In what critics said was a diplomatic snub to other EU leaders, Mr Brown missed the formal group photograph of the 26 heads of government who gathered to adopt what will in future be known as the Treaty of Lisbon.

Downing Street blamed it on an unavoidable diary mix-up which meant Mr Brown was still in London giving evidence to MPs while his counterparts took part in a glitzy musical spectacular at the Jeronimos monastery outside Lisbon, Portugal.

By the time he arrived, Mr Brown had missed the signing, the speeches, the photo and most of the lunch, and some leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, were heading back to their respective capitals.

It was left to Mr Miliband to represent Britain at the ceremony.

With 26 prime ministers and presidents taking precedence, he was called last to the podium.

And as he posed for the cameras, Portuguese premier Jose Socrates asked him: “Where is Mr Brown?”, forcing the Foreign Secretary to look at his watch and assure him: “He’s on his way.”

Several EU leaders appeared peeved that Mr Brown had chosen not to attend on the grounds he had other business.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy summed up the mood by declaring: “We have all got our problems, but…”

Two hours later, and with cameras recording what critics said was Britain’s moment of splendid isolation, Mr Brown was ushered into the hall where the ceremonies had taken place to add his signature to the treaty.

Despite the Prime Minister’s assurances that the constitution is a minor development, EU leaders were in no doubt that a historic point had been reached.

Portugal’s Mr Socrates said: “This was the European project that many generations dreamt of and others before us championed, with a vision of the future.”


‘From this old continent, a new Europe is born’: Jose Manuel Barroso speaks at the signing

Mr Brown now faces a Parliamentary battle in the New Year when MPs and peers will be asked to ratify the document drafted to replace the failed European constitution.

He tried to draw attention away from his diplomatic difficulties by calling on the rest of the EU to “stop looking inwards, stop looking at constitutions or semi-constitutions or institutions for a long time ahead, and for the foreseeable future concentrate on the big issues ahead of us”.

The Treaty of Lisbon is designed to streamline the EU’s workings following its enlargement to 27 members.

It creates a permanent EU President and a High Representative for foreign affairs, as well as a legal personality for the EU, allowing it to sign international treaties.

Mr Brown claims the treaty bears no resemblance to the constitution, which was dropped after voters in France and Holland rejected it in 2005.

But the Tories – and most EU leaders – say it is almost identical and implements nearly all the sweeping changes envisaged by the constitution.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “Gordon Brown has left Britain with the worst of all worlds today.

“With a stroke of a pen he has signed away a swathe of powers to the EU, but his sulky rudeness to our European partners means that he has actually managed to lose influence in Brussels.

“This latest blunder is another sign that Gordon Brown is struggling to cope as Prime Minister.”

Liberal Democrat leadership contender Chris Huhne – a former MEP – said: “Anti-Europeans will note the Treaty was still signed, while pro-Europeans will note the extraordinary bad grace with which the Prime Minister specifically organised a parliamentary meeting to clash with a ceremony that 26 of our partners’ heads of state and government thought it worthwhile to attend.

“This is inept and peevish behaviour that leaves Gordon Brown’s reputation for honest dealing with our EU partners hanging by a thread.”

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage was scathing about Mr Brown’s failure to attend the signing ceremony: “Whether you are pro or anti-European, the British performance in there was cringe-makingly awful.”