INDIANA — The police department at Purdue University wants to strengthen its relationship with the campus newspaper after a recent run-in between an officer and a student journalist.
Michael Carney, multimedia editor and reporter at The Exponent, went to film and report on early election voting Oct. 20 at the university’s Stewart Center. Before he began filming, a woman collapsed nearby.
“When I got there, there was someone laying on the ground, so I figured someone called the paramedics,” Carney said. “Sure enough in four or five minutes the paramedics came. So I started filming [the victim] before the paramedics came.”
Paramedics asked Carney to step away and stop shooting. When he refused to stop, university police officer Jeff Hegg got involved, physically blocking the camera and repeatedly asking Carney to shut off the camera, according to the Exponent‘s video of the incident.
“It’s invasion of privacy, I’m asking you to shut it off now,” Hegg is heard saying on the video.
“It’s a public place — it’s my First Amendment right, as a member of the press, to record what’s going on,” Carney responds.
Hegg later asked Carney for identification, which he provided. Hegg can also be heard on several occasions asking Carney not to film him.
“I asked you not to film me,” Hegg said on the video.
“Am I legally not allowed to film you?” Carney asked.
“Yeah, right now you’re not,” Hegg responds. “Because I’m telling you you’re not. That is a police order. Turn it off now, or we’re going to go outside and I’ll put you in the back seat of my car for not obeying a police officer’s command.”
Hegg later said Carney was required to have a press credential, and said he would speak with Carney’s editor.
“I think I did the best I could, definitely,” Carney said in an interview.
The officer left the scene before Exponent Editor-in-Chief Zoe Hayes could get there.
“We generally have a pretty good relationship with the police,” Hayes said.
Several days later she sent a letter to the university police, which was investigated like a formal complaint. Details of that investigation are in Hegg’s closed personnel file.
Mike Hiestand, consulting attorney with the Student Press Law Center, said the officer was off base and Carney had every right to be there. However, he typically recommends journalists cooperate with police and then challenge their orders later.
“If they continue to insist and to order you to leave, in most cases it’s probably best that you do so,” Hiestand said. “It’s usually best to obey the police order, not to get yourself into additional trouble, and to challenge it later on — challenge it quickly, but later.”
University police chief John Cox said the incident was a learning experience for both parties.
“We can just stop saying videographer or media people — it’s about anybody,” Cox said. “The police have a right and duty to protect the scene, but we also have to be conscious there are other people out there.”
Hayes said his officer was in the wrong by asking Carney to turn off the camera.
“He obviously had every right to have that camera on,” Hayes said.
The Exponent will now take part in a quarterly meeting held between the police and local media, set to take place next month. Additionally, media training has been added to annual police education, and Hayes said she will increase communication with university police.