Journalist arrested after photographing voting lines in Florida
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A freelance journalist from Long Island who was taking pictures of voters waiting outside the Palm Beach County elections headquarters was arrested yesterday after ignoring a deputy’s orders to stop, sheriff’s officials said.
James S. Henry, of Sag Harbor, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence.
Sheriff’s Deputy Al Cinque tried to stop Henry as he shot pictures of about 600 people standing in line to vote yesterday afternoon. Henry began running away, but Cinque tackled him, The Palm Beach Post reported.
The deputy pinned Henry, 54, to the ground, yelling for him to stop moving, then punched him in the back. Cinque handcuffed Henry’s left arm, pulled him to his feet and punched him again as Henry tried to hand him identification cards, according to the paper.
But sheriff’s office spokesman Paul Miller said today that Henry “tripped over his own feet” as he ran away. He was heading toward the building’s front door, and the deputy “has to use whatever reasonable force is necessary under the circumstances,” Miller said.
Miller said the deputy had asked Henry to move to another area to snap pictures.
“His actions were compromising the elections process and intimidating people that were attempting to wait to vote,” Miller said. “He was in their faces.”
Assistant Palm Beach County Attorney Leon St. John said Cinque was enforcing new rules, enacted Oct. 29 by elections chief Theresa LePore, that prohibit reporters from coming within 50 feet of a polling place’s front door to interview or photograph voters.
The restrictions were prompted by “numerous complaints by voters about being photographed and interviewed,” St. John said.
Other reporters, who witnessed the arrest, said they had not been aware of the new restrictions. Miller said he did not know of other journalists being stopped.
One of LePore’s colleagues, Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, told the Post that restricting journalists on public sidewalks was an “outrage.”
“The First Amendment right to be there is absolute,” he said. “It’s a public place, a public sidewalk. There is no statute, no law that can take away your right to talk to someone who is willing on a public sidewalk as long as no one is obstructing or interfering.”
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, also criticized Henry’s arrest, the Post reported. “Where did Theresa LePore get the authority to criminalize activities protected by the First Amendment?”
Henry, who is also an attorney and the managing director of strategy consulting firm Sag Harbor Group, is working on a book about “electoral democracy,” according to his Web site.
He was released on $500 bond early today. Phone messages left at his business and on his cell phone were not immediately returned.
The Election Protection coalition sued to have a court order LePore and the sheriff’s office to allow reporters to talk to voters.
“There is no justification for an elections official to seize authority to suspend the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way Foundation.