ACLU Defends IMC Reporter/Police Chief Responds

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As reported in the June/July issue of the Public I newspaper,
I was kicked out of a press conference held by
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney on June 8, 2007, the
day after three of his officers were shot in West Side Park. I
had barely sat down at the press conference before
Finney’s second-in-command, Troy Daniels, tapped me on
the shoulder and asked me to leave. I did not even have
the chance to be disorderly or ask a question – although I
was planning to make no comment about the shooting.
Outside, I was approached by Finney who told me I was
not a legitimate member of the press. “I choose who I want
to talk to,” he told me.
Since March 1, 2007, when I met with Chief Finney
and Champaign attorney Trisha Crowley, I have been considered
a member of the press in Champaign. This was
verified most recently in a letter dated on May 16, 2007,
when Champaign police responded to a Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA) request I had made.
With the help of the local chapter of the American Civil
Liberties Union, I contacted Adam Schwartz, an ACLU
attorney in Chicago. He wrote a letter on my behalf that
was sent on June 20, 2007. A copy of the letter isnext to
this article. He cites 30 years of case law based on the First
Amendment protecting members of the press from being
arbitrarily denied access to press events.
Chief Finney responded in a letter dated July 2, 2007.
Finney asks that members of the media follow proper
decorum, but makes no mention of how I failed to do so.
The Champaign Police Department also told the ACLU’s
Adam Schwartz that there was no specific policy concerning
press conferences.
A month later, after I had left several phone messages, I
finally got a call from the Champaign police’s spokesperson
Rene Dunn. I had only received Finney’s letter after it
was forwarded to me by the ACLU. Dunn called me within
24 hours of my posting these two letters at the Independent
Media Center’s web site (ucimc.org).
Dunn confirmed that I was back on the CPD’s press list.
I asked if she would email me any future press releases,
which are sent out to all members of the local mainstream
media. Dunn denied my request. “We don’t send out press
releases to everyone in the country,” she said.
I asked if a new policy would be written making it clear
that all members of the media have access to press conferences.
Dunn said she doesn’t handle those matters.
I still do not have an explanation why I was kicked out
of the June 8 press conference. Apparently, Finney was
simply doing whatever he damned well pleases. His
actions are another example of why there is a need for an
independent Citizen Police Review Board in Champaign
that can begin to bring accountability to the department.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.

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