CPJ alarmed by arrest, harassment of ABC producer in Denver

New York, August 28, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the arrest and harassment on Wednesday of an ABC News producer whose crew was on a public sidewalk seeking to film Democratic Party officials and donors leaving a meeting at the Brown Palace Hotel.

The case unfolded in separate incidents over two hours. The incidents were filmed by the crew working with producer Asa Eslocker. Part of ABC News’ investigative unit, Eslocker and his crew were expecting to film Democratic senators leaving an event hosted by donors, according to the network.

In the first incident, Eslocker is seen on videotape standing on a public sidewalk and speaking on his cell phone when he is approached by an officer who ordered him to leave. ABC News said the officer was wearing a Boulder County Sheriff’s Department uniform.

“OK, hold on,” Eslocker replied, as two pedestrians are seen walking, unimpeded, on the same sidewalk past the journalist and the officer. “No, we’re not holding on,” replied the officer, taking the producer by the arm and pushing him off the sidewalk and into the street as a tour bus passed by. Eslocker, walking backward and looking to his side to watch for oncoming traffic, protested that he had been standing on public property, the video shows. The officer replied, “Now you’re impeding traffic.”

Two hours later, after Eslocker had returned to the sidewalk outside the hotel, a police sergeant placed him under arrest. The sergeant, who had a large lit cigar protruding from his mouth, took the journalist’s arm, the video shows. As a second officer held Eslocker’s other arm, the tape shows the sergeant grabbing the journalist by the throat and placing him in handcuffs. A third officer on the scene is heard on tape telling the camera crew, “Just shut if off.”

The producer and crew were “only on the sidewalk and not in the hotel,” Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president for ABC News, told CPJ by telephone from Denver. “We were simply doing our job, trying to document the convergence of big money and politics. … Our producer was acting appropriately and just doing his job.”

Police told ABC News that the Brown Palace Hotel had filed a complaint. Shannon Dexheimer, a public relations manager for the Brown Palace, told CPJ the crew was blocking the hotel entrance. The videotape shows the crew on the sidewalk only.

Eslocker was charged with three violations of Denver municipal ordinances, interfering with police, trespassing, and failure to obey a lawful order, according to Lynn Kimbrough, communications director for the Denver District Attorney and the Joint Information Center set up by Denver authorities this week for the Democratic Party convention.

“We urge law enforcement officials to thoroughly assess this incident and to respect the rights of citizens, including journalists, to be on public property,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for Americas. “We also ask that the prosecutor drop these charges immediately.”

Asked whether the actions captured on film were consistent with Denver law enforcement protocol, Kimbrough said the entire incident would “later be reviewed” by the district attorney’s office. Asked whether a trespassing charge could be applied to individuals standing on a public sidewalk, Kimbrough said that, too, would be reviewed.