A veteran West Virginia reporter has been arrested and charged with "disruption of government processes" in the state capitol for "yelling questions" at visiting Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price and White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway.
Daniel Ralph Heyman, 54, with the Public News Service of West Virginia, was freed on $5,000 bond Tuesday night on a charge of "willful disruption of government processes," according to a criminal complaint.
“The above defendant was aggressively breaching the secret service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol,” the complaint states. It adds Heyman caused a disturbance by “yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”
The misdemeanor carries a possible fine of $100 and up to six months in jail.
Heyman later told reporters he was “trying to do my job” by pressing the secretary on whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the proposed American Health Care Act.
Heyman, a veteran reporter who covers health issues for Public News Service, said he was holding his phone out to record the impromptu hallway interview but Price repeatedly refused to respond. “He didn’t say anything,” Heyman told reporters. "So I persisted.”
Heyman told reporters at the news conference, posted on the Facebook page of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, that his arrest sets a “terrible example” for members of the media seeking answers.
“This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I think it’s a question that deserves to be answered. I think it’s my job to ask questions and I think it’s my job to try to get answers.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia called the charges "outrageous" and said the arrest was "a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press."
"Freedom of the press is being eroded every day, " it said in a statement. "We have a president who calls the media 'fake news' and resists transparency at every turn."
The statement added this is a "dangerous time in the country."
Price and Conway were in the state to discuss the opioid addiction in West Virginia, which has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. They met privately with state and local policymakers and members of several groups, including officials of an addiction treatment center and an addiction hotline, according to the Associated Press.
In the capitol building, they were also confronted by a handful of demonstrators protesting the bill recently passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. House to repeal and replace Obamacare. At the time of the incident, Heyman said he was the only reporter scurrying down the hallway with the Price entourage.
Kristen O'Sullivan, who recorded the arrest on her cell phone, was among the protesters. She told Public News Service that Heyman was grabbed by the back of the neck and put against a wall by capitol security officers.
"And it's a shame," she told the media organization, "to see not only the fact that we may be losing the ability for ourselves to get our pre-existing conditions covered, but we're losing out on the First Amendment. We can't even report on that anymore."
Valerie Woody, who was there as outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said Price's group was moving quickly down a hallway and Heyman was racing after them.
"I saw nothing in his behavior, I heard nothing that indicated any kind of aggressive behavior or anything like that," she told Public News Service. "Just simple, you know, trying to get somebody's attention and ask them a question. It seems to me there was no violation of anyone's space, or physicality, other than the arrest itself."
Heyman, who was wearing his 8-year-old press pass and a shirt with his organization's logo at the time, told reporters that no one who identified themselves as law enforcement — neither Secret Service nor police — asked him to leave the area. He said a person he thought may have been one of Price's aides told him he “probably shouldn’t be there” and he asked why not.
Heyman's attorney, Tim DiPiero, told Public News Service that the charge, "willful disruption of governmental processes," is based on what he called a "vague" statute, and that Heyman was just doing his job as a journalist.