Daniel Heyman on Getting Arrested for Asking Tom Price a Question

Last month, Dan Heyman, a reporter for Public News Service in Charleston, West Virginia was arrested in the state capitol building for trying to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Price was in town to address state officials about the opioid crisis.

But Heyman wanted to know about Trumpcare and the impact it would have on victims of domestic abuse.

It was one of a string of recent episodes where reporters have been roughed up or arrested for trying to do their jobs.

“On May 8, I had heard that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, was going to be in town attending a closed to the public meeting on the opioid crisis,” Heyman told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week.

Who was he meeting with?

“State officials. He was on a listening tour around the country, talking about opioids. I want to ask him this question. I get up on my hind legs. I had my phone as a recorder. And I wait for him to enter the building. There is this long hallway in the capitol that bisects the rotunda. And he enters into this hallway from one of the entrances to the building. When he came in, I turned on my recorder and asked him – I heard domestic violence would be a pre-existing condition under Trumpcare. Do you think this is right? I meant – do you think this is morally proper? I didn’t get an answer. I repeated the question several times.”

“There is some complexity. But you get the picture. There was an entourage around him. I was reaching past them, but I wasn’t trying to get into his personal space at all. I was reaching my phone out to record it. I asked him three or four times. And I got arrested.”

There was a picture that you took of protesters there.

Could they have thought that you were one of the protesters?

“They could have. I took that photo. I was initially identified as one of the members of that group. But no, I took that photo. I had come into the building with them. But I was also wearing a press pass around my neck that said — Public News Service. It was a West Virginia State Capitol press pass. And then after they arrested me – I said – hey, I’m a reporter. They knew I was a reporter.”

There was some talk that maybe the Secret Service told the police to arrest you.

“This is a little bit confusing. Tom Price, being a member of the cabinet, does not have Secret Service protection. The Secret Service was there because Kellyanne Conway was there. I had no interest in her.”

Did you recognize that was her?

“When she was pointed out to me.”

“At one point, when I was trying to get my phone close to Price, to try to get him to answer my question and he’s not answering – you never know whether he hears it or doesn’t – you repeat the question – I was angling around outside of his entourage.”

“And somebody says to me – don’t get too close to her.”

“I turned around and there is Kellyanne Conway. I look up, there she is. And I backed away from her. Which is kind of the point. If they had said – stop this, get away, stay here, don’t do this – I would have done it. I followed all of the lawful instructions I was given, let’s put it that way.”

“I got away from her. The Secret Service was there to protect her. I didn’t realize it at the time, when I was just holding out my phone to Tom Price, I just assumed that these guys in suits were staff. They don’t wear badges or anything like that.”

Did you hear anyone say – arrest that guy?

“I asked the capitol police officer who arrested me – did the Secret Service tell you to do this? And he said that while this was going on, the Secret Service agent looked at him and indicated non verbally that I was a problem. But the ultimate decision is on the state capitol police.”

What did they charge you with?

“Disrupting a state governmental process, which is a misdemeanor.”

Did you spend time in jail?

“I did. It took a long time to process, as these things do. They held me first in the offices of the state capitol police. They handcuffed me, fingerprinted me. They then took me down to Kanawha County Court. I was in a holding cell there for a little while. Went through the processes there. Went before a magistrate. And they sent me down to the Central Regional Jail. I was processed there and held for several hours. The arrest was around 1:30 pm and I got out around 9:15 pm.”

“I got out when my network paid the bail and they found a lawyer.”

What was the bail?

“It was set at $5,000. I don’t think they paid $5,000. I think they paid $500. In Kanawha County, you can pay ten percent even if you don’t through a bail bond person. I don’t understand it.”

What is the status of your case?

“We are still waiting for a hearing. It has not moved forward in the legal process. We don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what the next legal step is going to be. My lawyer is in discussions with the prosecutor about trying to get these charges dropped. But we are waiting for the wheels of justice to turn.”

Was this an unjust arrest?

“Yes. First of all, the charge is disrupting a state governmental process. Tom Price is not a state governmental official. Second, what is the governmental process of him walking down a hallway? Third, since when is it disruptive for a reporter, or anyone, to yell out a question in a public place? How disruptive is that? In a way, we could argue that informing the public is a more important governmental process than him walking down the hallway.”

“There are problems technically with the charge. But also, it is wrong, just simply wrong to stop a reporter who is not a threat to anyone from asking a question. Public servants – and we’ll emphasize the word servants there – public servants have security to protect them from physical injury or threat of injury. They are not there to protect them from uncomfortable questions. I was not a threat.”

“A radio interviewer later asked Tom Price if he thought I was menacing in any way, and he said – no, not really. It’s an imposition upon a citizen, let alone a member of the press, performing a sanctioned activity. We are allowed to have redress of grievances and free speech and freedom of the press in a public space. That’s not a small question. This is an important issue.”

“And I wasn’t there to cause any trouble. I wasn’t there to cause a disruption. I was there to get information. And that is a sanctioned activity.”

“There are any number of ways this is unreasonable. If they had said to me – stop doing this, back up, stay there, don’t go any further, or if the capitol police had held me by the arm and said – if you keep going, we are going to arrest you – I would have listened to them.”

You wouldn’t have done the Sam Donaldson thing – I have a right to ask this question and I’m going to ask it?

“No. I had words with the capitol police, but I didn’t fight the arrest. I wasn’t charged with resisting arrest.”

Did the police give you any indication about your demeanor or anything that lead to the arrest?

“One of the things they said was that they were arresting me for my own protection. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. But that’s what they said. They said the Secret Service is there to provide security and you are getting in the way of the Secret Service. And we are arresting you to take you out of there. And I hope you are happy, because that is what you got.”

“I said – well, I was working on a story.”

“They said – I hope you are happy you got what you wanted. I said – I did get the story, but I didn’t get the information that I wanted.”

Were they saying — you wanted to be arrested?

“There was an implication of that, although he didn’t say it per se. It might have meant that I was a protester. But I wasn’t there to cause trouble.”

This has become a national news story – reporter arrested for asking question.

“A friend of mine was counting the google hits. He said it peaked in the thousands. The New York Times and Washington Post each did a story. CNN did two stories. The Washington Post did an editorial. I did an op-ed for the Post. There is another story in the New York Times. We were getting requests for audio and video from Japan.”

Is there a legal defense fund?

“Right now my lawyer is working pro bono, which is good, because I probably couldn’t afford it. He’s an expensive attorney.”

What is his name?

“Tim DiPiero. If we sue for false arrest, the ACLU has talked about picking up those expenses. There are some ancillary expenses. And if anyone feels like donating, they can go to the Public News Service web site and donate there. That’s not for legal fees per se.”

Are you going to file a false arrest lawsuit?

“I haven’t decided about that. I was discussing with my editor last night whether to do that. There is a chance that if they dismiss the charges, in that dismissal, I would have to agree not to sue. Or I might have to agree to a gag order – agree not to comment on it.”

Why would you do that?

“Just to get rid of the charges. But my instinct is to fight it and not agree to any of those. But I haven’t made a decision and need to talk with my lawyer about that.”

How has this changed your life?

“I’ve been the subject of a topical heat wave. It’s settling down now, but it sparked back up after the reporter was body slammed in Montana. His eyeglasses were broken.”

“How has my life changed? It kind of pissed me off. My instinct is to fight. I have a clean criminal record. I am not afraid of the criminal charges. I don’t think a jury in the country would convict me.”

[For the complete Interview with Daniel Heyman, see page 31 Corporate Crime Reporter 23(11), June 5, 2017, print edition only.]

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