In September, amid the frenzy stirred by the case of Najibbullah Zazi, a DIA shuttle driver at the center of a federal terrorism probe, Channel 4 cameraman Glenn McReynolds was handcuffed and cited for failure to obey an order to leave the lobby of the Byron G. Rogers Federal Courthouse, at 1929 Stout Street, where Zazi was being interrogated.
At the time, Channel 4 news director Tim Wieland promised to fight on McReynolds' behalf, saying, "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."
In the end, the station prevailed. Earlier this month, the case against McReynolds was dismissed -- and Wieland feels the relationship between the station and law enforcement has been enhanced, rather than permanently harmed, by the incident.
"We met with the U.S. Attorney's Office to discuss the case against Glenn and how we could work together going forward," Wieland says. "We certainly articulated our feelings that Glenn wasn't treated fairly, and they agreed and dismissed the case."
Surveillance video from the lobby was a big help in this regard. McReynolds had gone there, sans equipment, to watch for Zazi to emerge in order to give the rest of the press corps a heads-up that he was on his way out. But shortly after security personnel discovered he was a member of the media, he was told to leave -- and when he asked to see a supervisor, he was cuffed and forcibly expelled.
So what was McReynolds up to prior to his ouster?
"He was doing a Sudoku puzzle," Wieland says. In the meantime, the video showed "other members of the public milling around in the waiting area. So it was clear he wasn't treated fairly in this case."
The feds' argument?
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"They discussed with us that this is a tenant-driven building, and their policy is that the lobby is for people with appointments only," Wieland notes. "And walking away from the meeting, we're fine with that policy, but it needs to be enforced evenhandedly both for members of the public and the media. Which it wasn't -- and they acknowledged that and dismissed the case against Glenn."
To prevent miscommunication like this from happening in the future, the feds "are going to redistribute the policy for that building, and I'm going to convey that message to our staff to remind them, let them know this is their policy there," Wieland allows. "But we also agreed that in any case that's questionable, a member of the media with us or any other outlet should ask for a supervisor to clarify things. That was part of our previous agreement with them, and that's exactly what Glenn did before they threw him out and charged him with failure to comply with a lawful order.
"This wasn't a contentious meeting," Wieland emphasizes. "I think it was a productive discussion. We've always had a positive relationship with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and I except that it will be enhanced, because we've opened up another line of communication with them."
And all it took was for a cameraman to get busted for doing a Sudoku puzzle.