MISSISSIPPI — A student journalist at the University ofMississippi, who was arrested while taking pictures of police on campus, said hewill plead not guilty to the charge of disorderly conduct when he goes to courtnext week.
Eric Besson, a reporter for The Daily Mississippian, said he feelshis Constitutional rights were violated by police officers.
“I don’t have a problem with police or authority,” Bessonsaid. “I don’t mind them. They do a lot of good, but they’renot all good. Sometimes they make mistakes. If [the press] isn’t allowedto document it and tell people about it, what’s going to stopthem?”
The arrest took place October 24th after a school football game, Bessonsaid. As students were leaving the game, Besson was walking through an areaknown as the Grove where he said he saw a group of police officers huddledtogether.
He walked over and began taking pictures of the officers. Besson said hewas told to back up and complied with the order.
After backing up, Besson said he tried to take another picture, at whichpoint an officer came up to him and told him he had already been asked to leave.Besson, who is a sports reporter at The Daily Mississippian, said heexplained to the officer he knew his rights, but was arrested immediately afterby another officer. Besson spent approximately an hour in a detention center.
Besson said over the course of events, the officers’ stories havechanged. He said initially he was told he was arrested for standing in the roadand getting in the way of an ambulance, neither of which he reported seeing atthe scene.
He then said the officers accused him of using profanity toward them, whichhe said he did not do until he was handcuffed and they were going through photoshe had taken.
“When you start preventing people from exercising their rights, younever know what’s going to come next,” he said.
Calvin Sellers, chief of police at the University of Mississippi, said hisofficers, who receive extensive training on Constitutional rights, behavedappropriately in the situation.
“They didn’t violate anyone’s Constitutionalrights,” he said.
He said the flash from Besson’s camera could be blinding to officersand could contribute to a dangerous situation.
“He was told on the scene by a captain that he has rights to take allthe pictures he wants to take, but that at that moment he had to move with therest of the crowd and get out of the way,” he said.
The police officers have a duty to look out for the rights and safety ofeveryone, Sellers said, and members of the press are no special exception.
Mike Hiestand, legal consultant for the Student Press Law Center, said bothpolice officers and student media have to understand their roles in suchsituations.
“I think that journalists need to understand and respect the role ofthe campus police, but the campus police need to do a better job understandingand respecting the role of campus journalists,” he said.
Hiestand said journalists have a fine balance to maintain in coveringstories involving incidents like the one Besson was involved in.
“It’s always a delicate line that journalists need to walk inhot news scenes like this,” he said. “They do not have a speciallicense to break the law … but they do have an obligation, if they see newshappening, to try and reasonably cover it in a way that doesn’t interferewith what’s taking place but that does provide the readers with good,accurate information about what law enforcement officials are upto.”
Besson is scheduled to appear in court November 10.