Yesterday, Channel 4 photographer Glenn McReynolds went to the Byron G. Rogers Federal Courthouse, at 1929 Stout Street, to cover the continuing interrogation of Najibbullah Zazi, a DIA shuttle driver at the center of a federal terrorism probe. Instead, he became part of the story when he was handcuffed and cited for failure to obey an order to leave the building's public lobby.
Channel 4 news director Tim Wieland stands solidly behind McReynolds and promises that the station will help him fight the charge. "We feel what happened was inappropriate," Wieland says, adding, "We don't think it's acceptable for a journalist to be excluded from a location where other members of the general public are allowed to be."
Wieland acknowledges that the courthouse's lobby isn't part of a press area designated in 2007 by the Office of Federal Protective Service following input from various local news agencies, including Channel 4. (See this blog for details.) However, he believes the treatment the cameraman received was wrong due to a number of extenuating circumstances.
According to Wieland, McReynolds initially set up camp in the press area outside the courthouse, where Zazi was being questioned by authorities. But as time dragged on, he volunteered to wait inside the lobby in order to give his colleagues a heads-up when Zazi was headed outside. He left his camera and other equipment outside before taking a seat in the lobby. After a while, a guard asked McReynolds if he was waiting for someone, and he replied "yes" -- the person being interviewed by the FBI. That temporarily placated the guard, but about twenty minutes later, he returned and asked McReynolds if he was a member of the media. When he replied in the affirmative, the guard told him that he had to leave.
Instead of doing so, Wieland goes on, "Glenn said, 'Could you or a supervisor explain why I can't wait in a public waiting area?' Then, some federal officers arrived and said, 'You have to leave.' And he asked them, 'Why would I have to leave a public waiting area?' And at that point, they said he was disobeying a federal order, put him in handcuffs, took him outside, put him in a Federal Protective Services car and cited him for failure to comply with a lawful order."
Thus far, Wieland hasn't spoken to any federal officials about what went down. The plan at present is for McReynolds to show up for whatever court date he's given down the line alongside the station's attorney, who'll argue that the feds simply went too far.
"If the agents had come down and escorted Glenn out of the building because they wanted him to leave, we would have complied and that would have been the end of it," Wieland says. "But we disagree that he was given a formal order to leave, and we certainly disagree that he deserved to receive a citation for what happened." After all, he continues, McReynolds "was without any gear, sitting in the lobby with other members of the public, reading a newspaper. And to single out a member of the media and say, 'You can't be in the same area as the general public' doesn't seem appropriate."