Charges dropped against BYU student following SPJ intervention
Bruce Cadwallader, Legal Defense Fund Chair, 614/461-5151 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Terrence G. Harper, Executive Director, 317/927-8000, ext. 220 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Criminal charges of trespassing and obstructing a peace officer were voluntarily dismissed late last week against a student journalist at Brigham Young University who was trying to videotape campus police doing their work.
Broadcast student Cliff Kelly of BYU's NewsNet faced a Dec. 20 court hearing before the legality of the arrest was questioned by several groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists. Kelly asked SPJ's Legal Defense Fund for help and he was given immediate access to $1,000 to hire a lawyer.
"This was an outrageous offense by an officer who forgot he was handing out misdirected punishment to a journalist who happened to have a camera. The Society of Professional Journalists is glad that cooler heads prevailed at the university level," said Bruce Cadwallader, chairman of SPJ's Legal Defense Fund.
The Legal Defense Fund, which raises funds through private donations and auctions, is one weapon SPJ uses to gain access to public documents and fight freedom of information battles. Applications may be made through SPJ Headquarters in Indianapolis or by contacting Cadwallader, a staff reporter at The Columbus Dispatch. More information is available on the Web at www.spj.org/spj_programs_ldf.asp.
In the BYU case, Kelly, a broadcast journalism major, said he was returning some video equipment to a student center last Wednesday when he came across a fellow student receiving a ticket for jaywalking. One of Kelly's assignments was to report on campus police activity. Officer Carl Whiting stopped what he was doing to challenge Kelly and order him to leave the area. The officer eventually grabbed the student and handcuffed him, took his camera and took him to campus police headquarters for a search. Kelly said he identified himself as a journalist several times.
"I wish they had dropped the charges sooner. I did nothing wrong," Kelly said Friday. Kelly's tape was returned to him
three hours later, but the arrest soon garnered some national news coverage that prompted calls from SPJ and the American Civil Liberties Union. The actions of Officer Whiting are under internal investigation,university officials said.