(05/07/2002)
Press Release www.hurherald.com

The West Virginia State Police are reportedly controlling access to "plain view" accidents or situations in Calhoun County, according to Trooper Fred Hammack. Hammack told four Calhoun emergency personnel, they (local State Police) had received a letter from Charleston saying not to allow The Hur Herald on their scenes.

He said The Herald was sent a letter advising them of the directive. The Herald received no such letter.

"This is the ultimate form of censorship," said Editor Bob Weaver. "If they are doing this to us, can you imagine what they are doing to our citizens."

Trooper Hammack told personnel from Calhoun's 911 and a local fire chief, The Hur Herald "was not classified as a newspaper" because it is on the internet.

Legal sources and media attorneys have advised The Herald it is as legally qualified as The New York Times or any newspaper.

The Grantsville detachment declined to provide a copy of the alleged letter yesterday. A Freedom of Information request for the letter has been filed.

Trooper Hammack ordered The Hur Herald, under threat of arrest, to leave the scene of an accident on Nobe Road last Saturday. He said photographs are not be taken. "The unlawful order was a frightening violation of access, First Amendment rights and West Virginia law," said Editor Bob Weaver. "It lends new meaning to the phrase State Police."

Weaver was standing in a field beyond numerous spectators when Trooper Hammack approached him. "He was angry and intimidating," said Weaver. "He called me a liar and demanded I leave." This was one of several occasions the State Police have harassed Weaver over free press access. "The police will not respond to any type of inquiries in this county," he said.

Police can block crime scenes from view under certain situations, and can restrict access by the public and media, if they are impeding an investigation or hampering emergency services. Those situations are generally respected, but major media often photographs crime scenes from a distance. "Compared to the evening news, the photos on The Herald are very prudent," said Weaver. "A car wreck is generally not a crime scene, as the trooper said."

Under West Virginia statute, police are usually not in charge of accident scenes until victims have been removed. Fire Chiefs and EMS officers generally have legal jurisdiction for a period.

Professional misconduct charges will be filed in Charleston today against Trooper Hammack. "We are concerned for the citizens of our county, their right to know what is happening. We take our reporting seriously," said Weaver. "I'm sure the State Police are angry at me for reporting on their problems, but to continue to harass and threaten me is strange business."


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