BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WPRI/AP) — A reporter with Hearst Connecticut Media was briefly detained while covering a demonstration on the anniversary of a police shooting.
The Connecticut Post reports that Tara O’Neill was handcuffed by Bridgeport police Thursday night, held for about 30 minutes, and released without being charged.
O’Neill was covering a demonstration marking the two-year anniversary of the shooting that killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron.
O’Neill was observing from a sidewalk when police ordered everyone off the street.
The newspaper says O’Neill identified herself to officers as a member of the media.
“I was handcuffed, put into a police cruiser, taken to booking, patted down, my belongings were taken down for inventory and put in a bag,” O’Neill described on Twitter. “I was told they could release me on a written promise to appear. Then, I was let go without charges.”
Matt DeRienzo, vice president of news and digital content for Hearst Connecticut Media, said the reporter’s detention is extremely troubling.
“The public deserves a full explanation of how it happened and what steps will be taken to make sure that the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know is not infringed upon like this in the future,” DeRienzo said. “Tara O’Neill is a dedicated reporter who is well-known to Bridgeport police and police leadership. There’s no chance this was a case of mistaken identity. They arrested a reporter while she was doing her job.”
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim called O’Neill’s arrest inexcusable and said he urged the police chief to consider the reporter not part of the protest.
The Connecticut chapter of the Society Professional Journalists (CT SPJ) released a statement regarding the arrest, calling it disturbing.
“Tara O’Neill was reporting on Thursday’s protest to write a news story. She was not a participant, and identified herself as a reporter when an officer handcuffed her. The fact that someone can be arrested in Bridgeport for the lawful exercise of a First Amendment right is chilling,” the statement reads.
The New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC) also issued a response to O’Neill’s detainment, calling on the Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez to explain to the public what led up to her arrest and issue a formal apology.
O’Neill said on Twitter right before she was released, she met with a deputy chief and the arresting officer, who repeatedly apologized and told her he had no idea she was a reporter.
A spokesperson for Bridgeport police said O’Neill was “mixed in with folks who were not complying,” which led to her arrest. Police said O’Neill did have a badge on her, but she was in plain clothes and was not wearing it where officers could see it.
“She’s known to the communications department, as well as the mayor’s office and the police chief. But not known to all officers, as the Bridgeport Police Department has a staff of over 400,” the spokesperson said.