Success! All Charges Dropped Against Journalist Dan Heyman

Remember when journalist Dan Heyman was arrested and charged with “disruption” for having the audacity to approach Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to ask him a question? Heyman and his employers at the Public News Service sure do, along with 23,000 Care2 members who signed a petition demanding that the charges be dropped.

Good news: The persistence of activists like you, along with civil rights groups, has won the day.

On September 6, the prosecutor’s office dismissed the charges against Heyman, who will no longer face a $100 fine and up to six months in jail thanks to the hard work of supporters across the country.

Heyman’s case revolved around a brief encounter in the halls of the West Virginia State Capitol, where he saw Price and attempted to ask him some questions. While Price wasn’t at an official event, he was in public, and he didn’t respond to Heyman’s repeated requests.

When Heyman moved closer to confirm that Price refused to comment, raising his phone to make sure he caught the audio, law enforcement intervened.

They claimed that Heyman was being “disruptive” because of how he asked his questions. Depending on who you believe, he may have been “yelling,” but he may also have simply been forceful — and anyone who’s tried to talk to someone in a crowded hallway knows that sometimes it’s necessary to raise your voice to be heard over background chatter.

Price, meanwhile, praised law enforcement for their response. Members of the public will never know exactly what happened, because when the Charleston Gazette-Mail filed a public records request to view the tapes, it was denied.

Free speech advocates, especially those concerned about freedom of the press, were very worried about Heyman’s case. Many feared it could be a sign that the government might be willing to suppress journalists.

Press freedom is enshrined in the Constitution, and most people view it as a vital American right, ensuring that members of the public can access information gathered by journalists who shouldn’t fear asking difficult questions.

After Heyman was freed on bail, the conditions included being barred from the capitol. And that was a major problem for a journalist who needed to go there to do his job. The restrictive bail terms were also very unsettling for those who viewed his arrest as a punitive measure designed to suppress speech.

The prosecutor’s office explained that while Heyman was “aggressive,” he did not, in fact, do anything illegal. In a statement, Heyman said that he “certainly appreciates the State’s decision and affirmatively states that he was doing his job as a reporter by asking questions of a federal official as that official walked through the Capitol.”

This happy resolution shouldn’t be regarded as the end of the line, though.

The Trump administration is notoriously hostile to journalists, whether it’s restricting access, sequestering information or trying to intimidate them. The work of reporters like Heyman is vital, and the administration only wants to make their jobs harder.

The desire to hide, obfuscate and obstruct information is a worrying sign that the administration thinks it has something to hide — and that makes investigative journalists more important than ever. Even when they ask questions “aggressively” or get in the face of elected officials in public buildings, they’re still just doing their jobs, sometimes in the face of significant odds.

Heyman and the PNS won in this case, but it’s likely we’ll be seeing more of its kind in the coming years.

Photo credit: Tim Evanson

49 comments

Sue H
Sue H2 months ago

Excellent outcome.

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Cruel J
Cruel J2 months ago

Great news!

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s2 months ago

Good. Thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s2 months ago

Good. Thank you

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Paola S
Paola S2 months ago

Thanks for the update.

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Carl R
Carl R2 months ago

Thanks!!!!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie F2 months ago

Glad

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Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Janet B
Janet B2 months ago

Thanks

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Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

TYFS

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