Chicago Police Arrest Two Journalists For Willful Commission of “Whatever”

The same week that a video showed a Chicago police officer choking a young man on St. Patrick’s Day, this video shows police arresting reporters outside of a hospital without apparent justification. The video shows Photographer Donte Williams and WGN Reporter Dan Ponce complying with orders and seeking to work out the disagreement on their presence at the scene. The officer proclaims “Your First Amendment rights can be terminated if you’re creating a scene or whatever.” This appears to be the “whatever” category.


The media was present to cover the story of a 6-year-old girl who was shot and killed. The media was on the public sidewalk and the hospital called police to report trespass. At the request of the police, the crew moved to a median in street. However, Chicago police say that hospital security guards reported that reporters tried to get past them into a secure area of the hospital — something the reporters deny. NBC Chicago Reporter Christian Farr reported that they merely went up to the door and never spoke to the security officers or tried to enter.

After being detained, Williams and Ponce were held for about 10 minutes. When the reporters noted that they had done nothing to “create a scene,” the officer responded “Your presence is creating a scene.” Thus, Chicago police do not have to turn to the “whatever” offense in the criminal code because by merely showing up at a scene, press create a scene and may be arrested. Of course, the Chicago police department is not saying that reporters cannot cover news. They simply have to do so by not being present. Simple.

Here is the statements from the CPS:
“The Chicago Police Department did not charge anyone with criminal trespass in connection with yesterday’s incident, which involved the unfortunate and senseless loss of a young child. We removed two individuals from the hospital at the request of hospital security guards, who asserted that the individuals had tried to go past them into secure and private areas of the hospital. The security guards declined to press charges and the individuals were released.

Our members were attempting to protect and respect both the grieving family members of the child, and the memory of the child herself during a very stressful time for all parties involved.

As always, we will carefully review the allegations in the event further action is warranted.”

From the video, it appears that the officer is just waiting for anyone to press charges and proceeds to place the reporters in custody — not for trespass but failure to obey an order. Moreover, an officer is not supposed to make an arrest simply because someone makes an allegation. That is particularly the case when the case involves members of the media carrying out their protected functions under the first amendment. Notably, I would assume that the front door of the hospital is under video surveillance. Either the guards or the reporter is lying and that can be determined from such a record.

In the end, it is not the alleged trespass but the conduct of the officer that is disturbing. The officer appears rude and hostile. The fact that the reporters were later released does not negate the abusive action. The video shows that the reporters had moved at a distance as requested. “Terminating” first amendment requires a far sight more than a finding of “whatever.”

Source: NBC

19 thoughts on “Chicago Police Arrest Two Journalists For Willful Commission of “Whatever””

  1. Seamus for Mayor.
    Rafflaw for Police Commissioner
    Gene H. for DA
    AY for Police Chief.
    .AN for Defender of the destitute.
    Me for keeper of the gaol. (I get to waterboard Cheney)

    PS thanks Seamus for the facts.

  2. This almost happened to me in the Wash DC metro a couple of months ago. My friend lost his ticket on the train side of the turnstiles, as I was talking to him from the other side, a police officer demanded I leave the station. I spoke very calmly to him knowing I had done nothing wrong, but he took out his cuffs saying I was to be arrested. man, theres something about the shiny-ness of those cuffs, that when they come out of the holster, all I wanted was for them to go back in. So I left my out-of-town friend in the station at that point and went streetside. That night, I couldnt stop thinking about what would have happened if I let myself get arrested. At some point, an innocent person must be allowed to recover something for straight-up invalid arrests, right?

  3. Seamus,
    I would hope that someone in the CPD had the sense to tell this guy to take a long extended vacation. This increased gnag violence comes after the police department has reduced its policemen on the street to save money.

  4. In the course of my job I’ve been to that hospital a few times to visit clients (usually hand-cuffed to their beds). I’m pretty sure they don’t have a press officer. Maybe they should, it’s located in a bit of a shooting gallery.I really don’t think there’s a way to sneek in; there’s a big desk with nurses and security right at the entrance. Based upon the fact that the reporters were across the street when the police approached it appears they obeyed hospital security’s request to leave. This particular hospital sees a good portion of the gun shot injuries in Chicago. Are the press “ghouls”? I don’t think so. In Chicago one hears complaints when crime in minority neighborhoods doesn’t get as much attention as crime in the affluent parts of town. Little Village where the shooting happened is a poor/working class neighborhood which is also happens to be Mexican/Hispanic/Mexican-American (what ever you prefer) The Chief of police (as recently as in the paper today) uses the shooting of children as a rallying cry against the gangs. I’m not sure how effective this would be without the cooperation of the press. The local stories about this shooting have been anything but ghoulish. The PD had to issued a statement to cover their ass in this matter, which is fine. There is a longer version of the video than the one posted here showing some seargents showing up and ordering the reporters to be released. I’m sure at some point that day one of them asked Officer Ward, “What the f _ _ k where you thinking.”

  5. “This whole thing looks like an episode of a cop getting his ego bruised when he’s questioned about his commands to the media.”

    Bingo. It’s the arrogant cop syndrome. Any questioning of their authority or failure to immediately obey is met with arrest, or worse, violence. Too much of this going around.

  6. Seamus has it correctly. This cop was upset that his imperial order was not obeyed. I think his employment rights need to be terminated. The crap excuse about the security guards is just that, crap. This is a bald face attempt to squash the people’s right to know what its police force is doing. This cop and every cop that went along with this charade need to be fired and WMAQ needs to sue their department.

  7. Similar pattern in Chicago with the other topic today when the fat slob cop beat up the little kid. Second Fat Slob in one day.
    Instead of Saint Pat’s Day they need Fat Slob Cop Day. Video them every day, every hour. There is a lawsuit going on now to enjoin the bastards from interfering with our right to photograph and video cops in public.

  8. LM,
    Don’t hospitals have press officers to take care of these guys outside the entrance? I thought even the smallest one had one—-everybody does, sure of it.

  9. Dredd,
    The only problem with that, and of course you know it—am just spinning on your script—-is he gets a job as a guard. Do the ones at hospitals have guns or scalpels as weapons?

  10. hospital security guards reported that reporters tried to get past them into a secure area of the hospital NBC Chicago Reporter Christian Farr reported that they merely went up to the door

    I thought they were supposed to be on a median in the street not merely going up to the hospital door. Were they looking for some poor family member so they could stick a microphone in their face and ask how it felt to never be able to see their child again? Free speech? For ghouls maybe.

  11. Seamus,

    Thanks….. Cops have egos….. I thought that was for control junkies….. Oh wait…. Pot/kettle…..

  12. That’s Mt. Sinai Hospital. The entry, front door, where the security is, is well over 50 yards from where the officer approches the reporters/camera men. This whole thing looks like an episode of a cop getting his ego bruised when he’s questioned about his commands to the media. You can see some other cops milling around looking at their feet as if they know their pal has gone too far. The “white shirts” who show up later are all seargents and do a yeoman’s job of smoothing things over. If these guys didn’t have press badges they would have been at bond court this mornng for filming the mess.

  13. We have serious problems when a police officer believes that he can “terminate” First Amendment rights because first amendment actors are “causing a scene”. This “causing a scene” exception to the First Amendment” is further complicated by the fact that the police officer believes that the criteria for his newly discovered scene exception is fulfilled simply by the first amendment actor, that is the report in this case, being there.
    I hope Congress doesn’t take this articulation of the scene exception and make it law. I am sure it will be looked upon lovingly.
    The Founders would be stunned and deeply disappointed.

  14. Is this the UofC? Apparently they need to learn better traffic control…… I hear about 40 something people were shot this last weekend in Chicago alone….. Seems that this is an easier target than dodging bullets…… So whatever seems to be easier…..

  15. With every new cops gone mad story here, the same theme repeats: uneducated men who have been shown that everything only slightly less awful than torture are now ready for rapid deployment against free citizens for, say, standing on a public block and recording what’s happening.

    The weirdo cops are almost always men.

    The world is is now too complex to leave it to dunderheads.

Comments are closed.