Louisiana television reporter Brett Buffington was taking photographs on a public street in Baton Rouge at 2:30 a.m. Thursday when police arrested him for putting “their lives in danger.”
Baton Rouge police have yet to explain how their lives were placed in danger from Buffington’s camera as they investigated a burglary, but their report stated the WBRZ-TV reporter was arrested after disobeying police requests to leave the area.
However, the report did not specify whether he crossed a police line or if he did anything besides take a photograph on a public street using a flash.
As Baton Rouge police apparently made no lawful order for Buffington to leave, it appears he was arrested on a standard “contempt of cop charge,” officially placed in the back of a squad car for “interfering with an officer.”
Police eventually released him from the patrol car, which was when he told an officer, “Hope you enjoy the rest of your career,” and was promptly arrested again and taken to Parish Prison for “intimidating a public official.”
While Buffington’s comment may have implied his intent to complain about the officer’s unlawful arrest, such a comment in no way constitutes “intimidating a public official,” which is “the use of violence, force, or threats upon any of the following persons, with the intent to influence his conduct in relation to his position, employment, or duty.”
Even if Buffington’s comment explicitly meant he planned to complain about the officer who arrested him, his comment both came after the officer’s conduct, and his stated intent to exercise his lawful right to file a legitimate complaint is not an unlawful threat.
Perhaps even more troubling than Baton Rouge police’s abuse of the law is the treatment given to Buffington in the local press.
The Advocate article on Buffington’s arrest reported only the contents of an unsubstantiated police report without noting the outrageousness of the charges against Buffington. The Advocate also published Buffington’s mug shot and printed his home address, while failing to note that Baton Rouge police lied about their reason for arresting a photographer in December and earlier threatened to arrest a photographer as they trampled on people during a St. Patrick’s Day parade in March.
Reporters across the U.S. should take note of the charges against Buffington and other arrests of journalists, including the one of Lake County Leader editor Vince Lovato, who ended up fired, when writing a story that focuses on a potentially slanted police point of view.
PINAC has not received a comment from Buffington, but WBRZ News Director Chuck Barr told the Advocate, “WBRZ is working with our employee and the Baton Rouge Police Department to determine the full details of what occurred.”
However, as of this time, the news station has yet to report on the arrest.