2 campus newspaper staffers charged with trespassing in dorm

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported Nov. 9 that student journalist Katie Hibson said she wouldn't appeal a ruling that she trespassed when she entered a dorm to interview students about a “Peeping Tom” incident. The ruling was issued Nov. 5 by James Madison University's Office of Judicial Affairs. The charges against Tim Chapman were dismissed.

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Two university journalists face trespassing and disorderly conduct charges after entering a dorm to interview students.

The Virginia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists yesterday called on James Madison University to drop charges against 21-year-old Tim Chapman and 19-year-old Katie Hibson. The group said school officials acted “beyond reason.”

Hibson is a reporter for The Breeze, the twice-weekly campus newspaper, and Chapman is editor in chief.

The university's Office of Judicial Affairs issued the charges after a resident adviser and the dorm director told Chapman and Hibson to leave Hillside Hall as they interviewed residents on Oct. 18 about a “Peeping Tom” incident.

University spokesman Don Egle said the students were free to interview people outside and that access to dorms is restricted for safety.

The Breeze reported yesterday that Hibson said that after she identified herself as a reporter, she was invited into the dorm on Oct. 18 by resident Ariel Spagnolo, who stood nearby while she interviewed students. Hibson said she left promptly when told to do so by Maria Lane, a resident adviser.

The campus newspaper reported that later on Oct. 18, Hibson said she and Chapman, along with Breeze staffer Emmie Cleveland, who is also a Hillside Hall resident, returned to the dorm to interview students. Hibson told the newspaper that Lane and Hall Director Sarah Woody asked Chapman and her to leave the building, and Woody then called police.

Roger Soenksen, who has worked with Breeze staffers for nearly 30 years and teaches communication law at the university, told WHSV-TV for an Oct. 26 story that “he has never seen a situation like this one.”

Soenksen was quoted by the station as saying: “I can't think of one iota of wrongdoing on their part. In fact, I am absolutely amazed it's gotten this far.”

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