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At WV State Capitol, Questions Land a Reporter in Jail

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A group of protesters at the West Virginia State Capitol, awaiting the arrival of U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. (Public News Service-Dan Heyman) (Note: photo was originally misidentified. Heyman took the photo, he was not in it.)
A group of protesters at the West Virginia State Capitol, awaiting the arrival of U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. (Public News Service-Dan Heyman) (Note: photo was originally misidentified. Heyman took the photo, he was not in it.)
May 10, 2017

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Reporter Dan Heyman, who covers West Virginia and Virginia for Public News Service, was arrested inside the State Capitol in Charleston on Tuesday afternoon.

Heyman was at the Capitol to cover a visit by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, as well as the protesters gathered there. The official complaint accuses Heyman of "causing a disturbance by yelling questions" at Price.

Valerie Woody, who was there as outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said Price's entourage was moving quickly through a hallway and Heyman was scurrying after them.

"I saw nothing in his behavior, I heard nothing that indicated any kind of aggressive behavior or anything like that," she said. "Just simple, you know, trying to get somebody's attention and ask them a question. It seems to me there was no violation of anyone's space, or physicality, other than the arrest itself."

Price was at the Capitol to meet with state lawmakers and others about the opioid epidemic.

Heyman was released Tuesday night on a $5,000 bond. His attorney, Tim DiPiero, said the charge, "willful disruption of governmental processes," is based on what he called a "vague" statute, and that Heyman was just doing his job as a journalist.

Kristen O'Sullivan also saw the arrest and recorded it on her phone. She said she was at the Capitol to protest the American Health Care Act as a breast-cancer survivor who is concerned about future coverage limitations for people with pre-existing medical conditions. O'Sullivan didn't know the reporter, who she said was grabbed by the back of the neck and put against a wall by Capitol security officers.

"And it's a shame," she said, "to see not only the fact that we may be losing the ability for ourselves to get our pre-existing conditions covered, but we're losing out on the First Amendment. We can't even report on that anymore."

She described Heyman as continuing to ask questions - including asking Price why he wasn't answering them.

Update/Disclosure: Woody is an employee of an organization that supports Public News Service.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WV