Journalists accuse Minnesota city officials of censorship, brutality
Officials in Maplewood, Minn., are facing accusations of brutality and censorship after police arrested the host of a cable-access show and confiscated his videotape of the incident.
Kevin Berglund was jailed and charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing and fifth-degree assault on Dec. 28 after an altercation with police at a reception for the outgoing mayor and two City Council members.
Berglund and co-host Bob Zick attended the reception to videotape city officials’ speeches for their weekly public-affairs show “Inside Insight.” The two journalists contend that officials told them the event was private and ordered them to leave.
Berglund, who had been filming Zick’s interaction with city officials, said he was attempting to leave when four police officers attending the event attacked him.
The police, however, said they subdued Berglund only after he refused to leave.
The officers “were going to escort him (Berglund) out, but when he resisted, the decision was made to arrest him,” Police Chief Don Winger told the First Amendment Center Online.
Berglund spent six hours in police custody and was bailed out by the city’s new mayor, Robert Cardinal. “I felt incumbent to do something, because I am the mayor,” Cardinal told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
After arresting Berglund, police confiscated the videotape of the incident from Zick. Police have since released a copy of the tape to Zick but are holding the original as evidence.
Zick said that, at the reception, problems arose when he, Berglund and city officials debated whether the event was public or private.
A copy of the 14-minute tape of the incident was obtained by the First Amendment Center Online. On the tape, Michael Ericson, the assistant to the city manager, described the reception as a “public/private get-together” that required a $15 per person entrance fee. He also compared the event to a wedding and asked Zick if he would want someone to crash his daughter’s wedding and shove a video camera in guests’ faces.
Zick responded that the reception was nothing like a wedding.
“It’s a public event — publicly put out there, publicly on the marquee,” he said. “It’s in a public facility. We have a quorum of the City Council [members] here. It is a public event.”
Zick also said that he and Berglund should not have to pay the $15 entrance fee because they were there to report on the event, not be a part of it.
Ericson told the First Amendment Center Online that, after the incident, he contacted city attorneys who said the reception was private and not subject to the state’s open-meetings law.
But John Borger, a First Amendment attorney representing Berglund and Zick, disagrees.
“There are certainly court decisions that indicate that when a quorum (of an elected body) is getting together, even on a supposedly social occasion, depending on what is discussed it may be subject to the open-meeting law,” Borger told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
On the night of the event, Ericson decided to compromise with Zick and Berglund by allowing them to record city officials’ remarks if they agreed to sit at a specified table in the back of the room and not to approach guests.
Ericson says this is when problems arose.
“Unfortunately, after repeated suggestions to sit [at the table], they wouldn’t sit down,” he said. “We felt that [allowing them to record from the table] was a compromise. They simply wouldn’t comply with that.”
Police Captain Mike Ryan, who had been participating in the conversation with Zick and Ericson, told Zick and Berglund that they would have to pay the entrance fee or leave.
On the tape, Zick can be seen walking toward the door while Ryan attempts to escort Berglund (who is holding the video camera) from the room. Berglund can be heard saying, “Please remove your hands from me,” and appears to back away from Ryan. From the angle of the camera, Berglund then appears to be moving forward when he is struck from behind.
Berglund said he was moving toward the door to leave when police attacked him.
Ericson said Berglund stepped away from Ryan and physically resisted leaving.
Ryan similarly described the events in police records: “Berglund started to resist and I placed my hand on his left arm and, at that point, he spun around and struck me in the chest with the video camera and began yelling ‘Take your hands off me,’ [and] backed up while he continued to video tape.”
Four police officers — Winger, Ryan and two lieutenants — then subdued and handcuffed Berglund.
Berglund said he repeatedly told the officers that he was not resisting. On the tape, he can be heard saying “I’m not resisting” and “Please, give me a moment.”
Ericson said Berglund continued to resist the police while making these statements.
“Mr. Berglund kept fighting them (the officers) the whole way,” Ericson said. “He was intentionally lying, saying ‘I’m not resisting’ and ‘You’re breaking my wrist.’ To me, he was trying to make the police officers look as bad as can be.”
At some point during the altercation Zick took the video camera from Berglund. After arresting Berglund, the officers forcibly confiscated the tape from Zick.
Both men say they suffered injuries as a result of the incident: Berglund, a fractured wrist; Zick, an injured left side and arm.
“I’ve never been treated like this before,” Zick told the First Amendment Center Online.
Local journalists were outraged by the treatment the men received.
“Mr. Bergland (sic) and Mr. Zick are journalists who were engaging in quintessential First Amendment-protected activity: covering the activities of local elected officials who had gathered in a public place,” Lucy Dalglish, Freedom of Information chairwoman for the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, wrote in a letter to Winger.
“The confiscation of the videotape, in particular, is illegal under the federal Privacy Act,” wrote Dalglish, who is also the incoming director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “It also denies the public the opportunity to observe the police department’s performance during the incident.”
Borger is examining the possibility of a lawsuit on First Amendment grounds on behalf of the two men. Berglund has retained another lawyer and is pursuing a possible police brutality suit. A hearing on the charges against him is scheduled for today.