Published on Sunday, 18 March 2012 14:42
Two Chicago television journalists were placed in handcuffs and detained by the Chicago Police Department yesterday afternoon after a confusing incident outside of Mt. Sinai Hospital. Those taken from the scene and placed into a police wagon were WGN-TV reporter Dan Ponce and WMAQ-TV videographer Donte Williams.
The problem started after a handful of television journalists went to Mt. Sinai Hospital to stand outside of the facility to see if any family members of a slain 6 year-old girl would be willing or wanting to speak with the press, as well as be able file a report for the station with the hospital seen in the background.
At the location at that were reporters from WGN-TV (Dan Ponce), WMAQ-TV (Christian Farr), and WLS-TV (Eric Horng), as well as a total of four cameramen for all three stations.
One Chicago Police officer asked the media members to move their TV trucks farther away from the hospital property. They all immediately complied. The live feed trucks were moved to a public area across the street. The same Chicago Police officer then asked the media members to move away from the hospital sidewalks, which they immediately did. The reporters and photographers crossed the street to a public area -- not private or hospital property -- and stood on a public patch of concrete in a wide median in the middle of Ogden Avenue. This one officer, who seemed still agitated at the media members, even though they willfully complied with all his directions, then asked them to leave the area by going to the far side of Ogden Avenue. At that point, the reporters mentioned to the officer that they were not on private property, this was not an active crime scene, they were not causing a public menace by standing on the concrete median across from the hospital, and according to the First Amendment, had a right to be there.
According to numerous witnesses, all of the media members behaved completely professionally and respectfully, unlike this one police officer who is shown on video tape using profanity and acting unprofessional. The officer, whose badge number is 13603 and whose name has not yet been publicly released, claimed he had the right to terminate the reporters' First Amendment rights if he felt they were causing a disturbance. Even though there were three reporters and four photographers present, this one officer chose to grab two of the media men, seemingly at random, and place them in handcuffs.
First grabbed by the allegedly overzealous officer was WGN-TV's Dan Ponce. Immediately afterward, the same officer placed WMAQ-TV's Donte Williams in cuffs. Neither men resisted the officer's aggressiveness and both were placed inside of a CPD wagon. After approximately 10 minutes, a Chicago Police sergeant showed, spoke with the two men in handcuffs, tried to explain why the police were called to the hospital in the first place, and then released them. Neither Ponce nor Williams were officially arrested or charged with any crimes.
According to the Chicago Police, they were called to the scene by Mt. Sinai security officers who feared that some reporters were trespassing and trying to enter into a secure areas of the hospital. The reporters and witnesses at the hospital claim nothing like that happened yesterday. A hospital security officer spoke to the reporters later claiming nobody there had called the police. A spokesman for the hospital now says they are not sure exactly what happened yesterday afternoon and will be conducting an internal investigation into it.
The Chicago Police Department issued a statement late yesterday saying: "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."
Greg Caputo, WGN-TV News Director, released a statement as well, which said: "The WGN reporter and photographer were at all times conducting themselves professionally and properly. They did not enter the hospital grounds and they did nothing to antagonize any hospital security or Chicago Police."
On his Facebook account
, Dan Ponce said: "Crazy. My photographer and I weren't trespassing, we didn't speak to ANY member of the victim's family, nor did I say ANYTHING rude to this officer..."
Christian Farr, who witnessed the journalists' detainment first hand, said on WLS-AM this afternoon: "It was an absolutely unbelievable scene last night. I've never seen anything like that." He added: "I've been in this business for 15 years. I've worked in Philadelphia for a number of years, Dayton, OH, dealt with the police departments... I've never seen a journalist have cuffs put on them."
Donte Williams posted on his Facebook account
earlier today, writing: "In my profession, I expect to encounter hostile environments but I would've never expected this to happen to Dan Ponce, myself or any other journalist or PERSON for that matter simply for being on a public sidewalk with a camera. The officer stated our 1st amendment right could be terminated. Really?"
Dan Ponce's friends in his former a cappella group, Straight No Chaser, started a humorous Twitter movement with the hashtag #FreePonce after hearing of the bizarre incident with the police.
Videos and news reports of the incident yesterday on the public street outside of the hospital can be seen on news videos at the links HERE
, and HERE