Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Raging Public

In just the past week there have been two high profile incidents where journalist, TV crews specifically, have been the target of repercussion from the subject of their stories.

In Florida a WFTV reporter was doused with water after knocking on a door looking for answers for his investigative story.

In Rhode Island a crew was accosted, threatened and verbally assaulted by unruly rent-a-cops crossing their own imaginary line in the sand when the TV Crew wouldn't back down and leave a public area.

These two stories and Lenslingers thoughts about them got me to thinking about some of my own misadventures in tresspassing and the knock-and-talk.

Several years ago on a shoot for a story about a deputy who had shot himself in the line of duty I was doused with a drink in a restaurant by a man who didn't want to be on TV. We were following up on this shooting where the deputy shot himself and blamed a "hispanic male".

When his story turned out to be false we did a follow up at a local mexican restaurant. We had permission to be in the joint and were following a waiter around when a man at one of the booths decided he didn't want to be on TV.

The man was probably 6-4, 300 and was just beginning to sip on one of those 1 quart margueritas. When I came down his row just behind the waiter he jumped up and threw the ice cold concoction all over me. I was soaked and pissed. I started asking the guy what the hell that was all about and we went a verbal round before the manager grabbed the guy and walked him out.

Needless to say everyone else in the place was stunned. We kind of figured that he and his female table mate didn't want to be seen together.

There's a tape of this incident somewhere.

But, more recently about 9 months back, a freshfaced weekend anchor and I were out on a story, our first time working together, following up on a weekend dog fighting ring bust.

We went and talked to the sheriff and he gave us a few new tidbits, but he also gave us a warning from the fresh out on bail property owner of the busted dog fighting ring.

"They don't want the media on their property, even to knock and ask for interviews, and they said they will be pressing charges for tresspassing. This is your official warning.", the sheriff told us in understanding, but certain terms.

Cookie Pro (7)

We were, however, still obligated to travel to the rural neighborhood and look for a neighbor or two that could tell us about these alleged dog fighters.

We stopped at several houses down the road with no luck so we pulled into the driveway of the house right next door and when there was no answer we pulled out and drove back up the road going past the home of the dog fighting suspects.

They were in their front yard and began flailing their arms at us with great emotion. Although my female partner in news felt like we should stop and hear them out, I saw the look on their face and I had a bad feeling.

Nico (1)

We rolled on down the road and as we approached the stop sign I saw a car flying up toward us from behind and flashing it's lights. They waved us to the side of the road and I reluctantly pulled to the shoulder.

A man and a woman ran up the news truck accusing us of tresspassing onto their property. I thought I had made a big boo-boo. Maybe that next door driveway had been theirs too! I held my ground though, insisting that we were just looking for a neighbor and that we didn't think that was their property.

They were on the phone with police and so were we. We called the PIO of the the Sheriff's office and he sent a deputy and a Major out to where we were. The man from the family actually stood in front of our truck keeping me from pulling away, or if I had tried I might have hit him risking an 'assault with vehicle' charge.

The deputies arrive and the family wanted us arrested. We told our side and they were belligerent that we had driven onto their land. The deputies believed us and told the family to drop it. The deputies did allow the family to come and give us our official tresspassing notice in person, which also included a couple of choice words from the guy. The deputy threated to arrest him for cussing at me.

We were allowed to drive on. I double checked property records later with the county's online tax maps to see that the driveway we pulled into was NOT owned by these goons, so we were in the clear all the way around. But being held on the side of the road for 20 minutes by people wanting us arrested for tresspassing wasn't exactly a normal day at the office.

Even more recently a high school assistant principal warned me to not shoot video while on school property. I was on a sidewalk across the street from the school, but at his request, I though it was within reason that this street may actually be a school driveway, and that this sidewalk was a school sidewalk.

When I asked the administrator how far back school property went he pointed us a half block back up the T-intersection to where a stop sign overlooked the school's brick marquees. I backed up instead just 3 feet beyond a corner stake just off the side of a the T-intersection adjoining a neighboring house. This didn't make the school guy happy, but I was off school property, even if just by mere inches. Again, I double checked the county's tax maps later.

These tax maps are great for situations like these. I advise printing copies of them if you know you are going into an iffy situation. A better option is to have the internet with you via a laptop with an internet air card that uses cell phone signals.

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