While all eyes were on President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday evening, another disturbing incident was playing out in Charleston, West Virginia, where a local news reporter was arrested while trying to ask HHS Secretary Tom Price questions.
Price was wrapping up a day at the state’s capitol along with Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, a stop on his national tour to discuss the opioid epidemic.
A local reporter, Dan Heyman with the Public News Service, approached Price along a hallway in the state capitol, asking him about whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the American Health Care Act, the Washington Post reports. Price did not respond, so Heyman continued to ask the question.
Minutes later, he was arrested by capitol police and charged with willful disruption of governmental process, according to The Hill, a misdemeanor crime.
The criminal complaint filed against Heyman by capitol police says he was “aggressively breaching the secret service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol. The defendant was causing a disturbance at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”
He was “causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price,” the complaint says, according to the Post.
The legal director of the ACLU West Virginia, Jamie Lynn Crofts, spoke to reporters on Tuesday night outside the capitol, after Heyman had been taken into custody.
“Our First Amendment rights are under attack every day, particularly from the Trump administration. And it’s not surprising to me that an incident like this would happen when a reporter tried to ask a question of a member of the Trump administration,” she said.
Heyman was released at around 10:30 PM Tuesday night on a $5,000 bail bond, Esquire reports, and spoke to press:
I had been working on a story about whether or not domestic violence is actually a pre-existing condition... So I wanted to ask Secretary Price about this so we waited for them to come into the building and I was recording audio on my phone and I reached it out to him past his staffers and the other people who were with him and I asked him the question repeatedly and he did not answer... At some point I think the Capitol police got an indication, I’m not sure about that, I’m not sure why, but at some point they decided I was too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job. So they arrested me.
Earlier in the day, Price reportedly brushed off concerns from West Virginia’s head of health and human resources about the administration’s plans to gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is currently responsible for policies addressing the opioid epidemic. West Virginia has been severely hit by the opioid crisis, with the nation’s highest overdose death rate of 41.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.