INDIANAPOLIS – In a letter sent last week, John Ensslin, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, conveyed his disapproval of police action toward a journalist covering a fire in Sun Valley, Nev. Washoe County Sheriff’s Office deputies pushed veteran photojournalist Tim Dunn to the ground while he took photographs of a fire for the Reno Gazette-Journal. The deputies cited Dunn, 60, for obstructing and resisting.
The letter (included below) sent to Michael Haley, the Washoe County sheriff, condemns the officers’ physical contact with Dunn, who sustained injuries from being knocked to the ground by officers after they told him to leave.
Ensslin’s letter acknowledges the importance of journalists’ taking safety precautions when their job requires proximity to danger, but asserts that Dunn followed standard procedures and should have been allowed access to the scene. A detailed account of the incident is here, from the Reno Gazette-Journal.
“I trust the impartial investigation will uncover details necessary for me to come to a conclusion about what occurred,” Haley explained in an email to the executive editor of the Gazette-Journal.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
June 21, 2012
Dear Sheriff Haley,
My name is John Ensslin. I am the national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest and most broad-based journalism organization in the country, with more than 8,000 members.
I'm writing to express our deep concern and outrage over your deputies' handling of an incident on Monday, June 18 involving Tim Dunn, the photo editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal.
According to a story in the Gazette-Journal, Dunn was taking photographs at a fire, just as he has done many times during his 21 years as a photojournalist for the paper.
As the brother of a former police officer and someone who has covered a fair number of fires, I understand the need of public safety personnel to control access to the scene of a chaotic situation so they can do their job. But it's also important to remember that Mr. Dunn had a job to do as well, one that is backed by his First Amendment right to cover a breaking news story.
Beyond the access issue, we are also deeply troubled by the injuries he sustained as deputies led him away from the scene. Was it really necessary to have him knocked to the ground and handcuffed?
It is also troubling to read in the Gazette-Journal that some deputies hinted that Mr. Dunn was “impersonating” a firefighter because he was wearing goggles and flame retardant clothing. Having covered several wildfires in Colorado for 24 years, I can tell you it was standard procedure to wear such protective equipment. It's not “impersonation,” it's common sense.
It's worth noting your that local fire department has recommended during media trainings that reporters and photographers obtain such equipment. It’s also significant that Mr. Dunn was carrying his media credentials at the time of the incident.
For all of these reasons, we urge that the charges against Mr. Dunn be dismissed.
Perhaps it also would be helpful to establish a dialog between the local media and your deputies as to what are the rights and responsibilities of reporters and photographers when covering breaking news such as a fire. The Society of Professional Journalists would be glad to help facilitate such a conversation.
Yours truly, John Ensslin President Society of Professional Journalists