We have yet another case of law enforcement holding people for filming in public and threatening them with arrest. This one however is particularly curious. NewsChannel 13 reporter Mark Mulholland and a videographer were filming a story on Grant Cottage where President Ulysses S. Grant had come to the cottage to finish writing his memoirs. This year is the 129th anniversary of his death and the crew was filming costumed re-enactors were commemorating the anniversary. Due to breaking news, the crew had to return the next day to finish with the shots. They were then approached by a Lt. Dorn from the nearby Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility and told that they could not film without permission. What unfolded was a rule that seemed to be without any coherence as to who may take pictures at a historic site.
Dorn is heard saying “Excuse me. No filming.” The crew explains that they are just filming the cottage as a historic site. Dorn responds “It doesn’t matter. You’re on state property right now. You can’t film here. You gotta get permission through Albany to film.” The cottage shares land with the prison.
When Mulholland said he would move back up the mountain to the Grant Cottage state historic site where public visitors could be seen, Dorn then said that he would not allow him to do that: “You’re not up here for that. You’re up here for different purposes.”
Mulholland: (to the cameraman) “You’re rolling right?” (to Dorn) “You’re telling us we can’t visit a historic site?”
Dorn: “No. You’re going to have to run that through Albany.”
. . .
Dorn: “Look. I’m not going to go around with this you on this. You’re going to leave the property.”
Mulholland: “OK. We will. We will go up to the historic site.”
Dorn: “You cannot film up there.”
Mulholland: “We will go to the historic site and do our job.”
As Dorn says that he wants the state police called, another correctional employee used his car to block NewsChannel 13’s access to the historic site (while moving his car to allow other visitors to go through).
Mulholland asked “If I’m a member of the public and I’m taking pictures of Grant’s Cottage and there’s the facility right behind it, what do you do in that case?”
Dorn responded that “If we’re aware the facility is in the background, those photos will be confiscated.”
Later an official at the Department of Corrections said the station had to surrender its video.
The Department of Corrections later issued a statement that accused NewsChannel 13 of trespassing and that anyone on department property must ask permission to film or risk confiscation of their film. However, this is a historic site routinely visited and filmed by tourists.
The New York State Associated Press Association issued a statement that condemned the actions and noted “there are no prisoners on site and the prison is to close within days.”
The fact that this occurs on prison property distinguishes it from other cases of filming in public areas. The fact is that the legislature and courts have been entirely deferential to prison in such policies. When on prison property, the correctional officials are given sweeping authority. However, in this case, the prison includes a nearby historic site and there is no cognizable threat to prison security, particularly given the offer to film only the cottage. More importantly, this appears a case of selective enforcement where tourists regularly take pictures but the news crew was stopped. The obvious lack of consistency (and flexibility) by the prison is disturbing.
Source: Post Star
Kudos: Michael Blott