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DNAinfo.com Journalists Arrested While Covering OWS Police Raids

By Michael P. Ventura | November 15, 2011 1:37pm | Updated on November 16, 2011 7:16am

By DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Two journalists for DNAinfo.com were among a handful of reporters and photographers arrested Tuesday morning as they tried to cover the aftermath of the city's attempt to expel Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park.

Patrick Hedlund, a DNAinfo.com News Editor, and Paul Lomax, a freelance photographer assigned to cover Occupy Wall Street for DNAinfo.com, were arrested in separate incidents. Hedlund, who has reported in the city and around the United States for seven years, was arrested about 4:30 a.m. outside the perimeter of Zuccotti Park.

Lomax, a seasoned photographer who has worked for news organizations throughout the city, was arrested at Duarte Square, near Sixth Avenue and Canal Street, at approximately noon after protesters had made their way there.  He was released after roughly four hours with all charges dropped, he said.

DNAinfo News Editor Patrick Hedlund was among several reporters arrested during coverage of the OWS protests on Nov. 15, 2011.
DNAinfo News Editor Patrick Hedlund was among several reporters arrested during coverage of the OWS protests on Nov. 15, 2011.
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DNAinfo/David Torres

Several other journalists were also arrested in the incident, including reporters Matthew Lysiak from the New York Daily News, Karen Matthews from the Associated Press, and photographer Seth Wenig, also from the AP.  Lomax and sources said the other reporters were also expected to be released without charges.

Both Hedlund and Lomax had NYPD-issued press credentials.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told NY1 Tuesday night that reporters working in Duarte Square were acting as "trespassers" and were arrested accordingly.

"There were reporters on private property," Kelly said. "They were told to leave and didn't leave. They didn't have a right to be there because there was confusion as to what they were allowed to do.  They were trespassers."

He also said he wouldn't handle arresting reporters any differently.

A freelance journalist who's covered the Occupy Wall Street movement for the blog The Local, a partnership between the New York Times and New York University, said on Twitter he was arrested about 2 a.m. A New York Times spokeswoman said the reporter was an NYU student and confirmed that he writes for The East Village Local. She said that no Times freelancers or staffers were arrested.

Reporter Julie Walker, who said she was a freelancer for National Public Radio, announced that she had been arrested on Twitter, then resumed covering the story after she was released from police custody.

As the raid on Zuccotti Park unfolded overnight, many journalists said police blocked them from reporting at the scene.

Reporters who were inside the park were ordered to leave when police arrived to conduct the sweep about 1 a.m. Some journalists stayed behind, hiding among protesters who locked arms and sang as cops closed in, according to journalists at the scene.

Reporters that arrived after the raid was in progress were kept behind a barrier that police formed two blocks from the park. Police turned away journalists with press credentials, which usually allow reporters to cross police lines.

Others said police "roughed up" journalists attempting to cover the raid.

"Reporters/photogs being thrown to ground and pushed to wall if they get in front of the wrong officer. Other officers calm and polite," said NY1 reporter Lindsey Christ in a 3 a.m. Tweet.

Christ later said she saw a New York Post reporter put in a choke hold, according to a Tweet by New York Times reporter Brian Stelter. A spokeswoman for the Post, was not immediately available for comment.

Police also reportedly grounded CBS television news helicopters as they headed to the scene.

About 2 a.m., the cops abruptly shifted strategy, in some areas welcoming reporters to view the clean-up in progress.

The mayor defended the police action keeping protesters away from the park.

"The police department routinely keeps members of the press off to the side when they're in the middle of a police action," he said, "It's to prevent the situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press."

He repeatedly defended police as acting professionally and within their bounds.

"[They] performed exactly the way you would expect them," he said.

The mayor's office has referred all questions regarding reporter arrests to the NYPD's press office.

But many local officials were deeply critical of the attempts to curtail access.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer slammed the administration for the tactics used by police Tuesday, and said he was especially concerned by the number of reporter arrests.

“I cannot remember any time this many reporters were arrested during a protest,” he said, calling for an explanation from police about their alleged use of 'chokeholds' and pepper spray, as well as keeping members of the media forcibly penned away from the park.

“Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square," he said.

Many compared the incidents to what happened during the 2004 Republican National Convention, when hundreds were arrested, including journalists.

“Swooping in, deliberately when no one is around, and then depriving the news media of access to information is entirely unacceptable,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, citing reports of reporters being kept away from the scene.

She said that she had counted at least six reporters arrested Tuesday and accused police of trying to keep their actions hidden from public view.

“When police are engaging in behavior that they don’t want the public to know about, journalist are a prime target,” she said.

Fordham University sociology professor Heather Gautney, also rejected the mayor’s explanation that police were trying to protect reporters by keeping them away and instead accused them of trying to limit images that might rile up the public, like the video footage of pepper spraying early on.

“[The mayor] was expecting some kind of clashes and did not want to be held accountable for what police would do,” she said.

But City Council Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Vallone Jr. defended Bloomberg and said he and police “did what was required” to end what he described as "the illegal aspects of the movement."

While he declined to weigh in on reporter arrests without more details of specific circumstances, he said the police’s stealth approach “was absolutely necessary and proper.”

“The goal is not to create a spectacle where elected officials can get on camera … and where the press can get good shots,” he said. “The goal here was to minimize the risk of injury to police and the public.”