State worker assaults TV reporter on video: “This is not public property; this is state property”

By Rob Nikolewski on December 1, 2010
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Back on Tuesday, Nov. 23, a state worker grabbed at the camera of KOB-TV reporter Gadi Schwartz while the reporter shot videotape outside the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) Building in downtown Santa Fe. During the fracas, the state employee fell down and one of his associates told Schwartz to leave the premises, saying, “This is not public property; this is state property.”

Gadi Schwartz

A security guard later tried to evict Schwartz from the vicinity uttering the same phrase.

Schwartz was covering a story concerning the discovery of bones by a construction crew outside the PERA Building and had earlier spoken to a member of the Santa Fe Police Department on camera about the discovery. Schwartz tried to explain that he had permission from the police officer to shoot video of the scene but the state employee insisted that Schwartz leave, as did a security officer who arrived after the state employee fell to the ground while attempting to grab Schwartz’ camera.

News of the tussle came out last week but today, the Santa Fe New Mexican posted the actual video of the incident. Here it is:

After the incident with the state employee, Schwartz called the police.

From the New Mexican:

New Mexico State Police Lt. Eric Garcia, who reviewed the video, said assault and battery charges will be filed against the state employee. The initial evidence reviewed by investigators, Garcia said, makes it clear that not only was Schwartz physically assaulted, he was clearly in a public area he had every right to be in.

 

No word yet if the state employee who grabbed the camera has been disciplined.

Opinion: The Orwellian “This is not public property; this is state property” is an instant classic. Unfortuntely, it reflects a disturbing trend among too many public officials, public servants and security personnel who seem to lose sight of whom they are supposed represent, protect and to answer to.

As a journalist, Gadi Schwartz has no more rights than the average citizen but he certainly does not have any fewer rights. He was covering a story on state property and was not taping anything that was not already roped off by Santa Fe police.

Considering how aggressive the state employee who initially assaulted him acted, it appears Schwartz showed remarkable restraint. Think to yourself: If somone grabbed you while you were doing your job, would you have reacted as cooly as Schwartz did, telling the offender, “Hey, man, you need to take it easy”? I’m not sure I would have.

And the nonsensical reasoning of the security officer who arrives later is maddening. Schwartz was not interfering with any state employees from doing their jobs. And the fact that Schwartz was the victim and had called police to report the incident never seems to have entered the security officer’s mind. And her interpretation that Schwartz doing his job as a reporter somehow places him in the category of a “vendor” is ridiculous.

The attitude that public property is somehow less than public points to a troubling tendency of late and, especially in an age of telephone cameras and Flip cameras, perhaps local state and federal authorities need to remind their employees more explicitly about the basic, individual and Constitutional rights of the citizens they are paid to serve.

For example, there was this incident in El Paso:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

And this summer, there were instances of security preventing reporters from shooting video and covering the BP oil spill along public beaches on the gulf coast. Here’s a link of one incident recorded by WDSU-TV in New Orleans: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fMTp9hCgWI

and another incident involving CBS News:

Or this incident in Albuquerque two years ago:

Or this incident during the Democratic National Convention in Denver:

And it’s not just journalists. There are plenty of incidents of authorities ordering ordinary citizens to leave public property, seizing and prohibiting the taking of photographs and videotape at public events in the public square, and generally trying to put public events under lockdown. Remember Congressman Bob “Who are you?” Etheridge assaulting a couple students with cameras who deigned to ask him a question on a public sidewalk?

The Cato Institute also lists some examples involving average citizens here.

This is partly why I post stories listing “Monuments to Me,” examples I find of politicians who — while still in office, still acting as “public servants” — have public buildings, ballparks, courthouses, gymnasiums, etc. named after them. Besides the self-glorification aspect, it shows a distortion of the the idea of who serves whom.

After all, you’ve never heard of a billionaire naming a wing of his mansion after the maid or butler. So why do some “public servants” half-expect that their work should be so recognized?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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