I predict if this type things continue, there will be lawsuits …….
Monday night, at a “town hall” meeting in North Avondale featuring U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, video cameras owned by two Democratic activists were seized by a Cincinnati police officer at the direction of Chabot’s staff.
A Chabot spokesman said the had the cameras seized “to protect the privacy of constituents” at the event, although there were at least two media outlets at the North Avondale Recreation Center filming the meeting.
Tim Burke, the chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, has written a letter to Cincinnati City Solicitor John Curp asking for an explanation of “the legal basis for the seizure and the enforcement by Cincinnati police of rules created by the Congressman.”
Hand-written signs were taped to the doors to the hall where the Monday night meeting was held saying that no video cameras were allowed inside.
But David Little, a Cincinnati Democrat working with ProgressOhio, a liberal organization, and Liz Ping, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the Ohio House last year, were taking video at the event. Little was using an IPhone video camera while Ping, who was taping the meeting for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was using a flip video camera mounted on a stand. About 100 persons were present – most of whom were clearly not supporters of the 1st District Republican congressman.
A Cincinnati police officer was present at the request of Chabot’s staff. Chabot spokesman Jamie Schwartz said that the House Sergeant at Arms has advised members of the House to coordinaate with local law enforcement on all public events.
Burke also filed a public records reuest for all records relating to Chabot’s use of the city facility, any instructions given to law enforcement officials regarding videotaping, and any record relating to the seizure of the cameras.
Schwartz said that a staff member asked the police officer to take the cameras being operated by Little and Ping. The seizure can be seen clearly on a YouTube video. The cameras were returned to the two Democrats after the meeting.
“The officer was very nice about it; and we politely and cordially defended our right to record a public official speaking in public in a public building,” Little said. “What are they afraid of?”
Schwartz said that sometimes at the town hall meetings, citizens ask questions about their own personal situations and the Chabot campaign did not want them videotaped. The media cameras were allowed to continue to roll, Schwartz said, “because they can be expected to respect people’s privacy.”
But, at this meeting, as at other recent Chabot town hall events, participants were required to sign in as they entered and write out questions for the congressman. Members of the staff chose which questions he answered at Monday’s meeting.
By the time Chabot holds his next town hall meeting at Westwood Town Hall Monday, Schwartz said, the rules will have changed. People will be allowed to ask questions of the congressman directly and cameras will not be seized.
“We’ll just advise the audience that if they have something of a personal nature they want to discuss with the congressman, they come up afterwards and the congresssman will stay around as long as it takes to talk to them,” Schwartz said.