(06/23/2002)
PRESS RELEASE www.hurherald.com

A professional misconduct complaint filed in May by the Hur Herald against Calhoun Trooper Fred Hammack has not been sustained.

Major Barrington D. Gore, who is in charge of the agencies internal review board, said "A review of the facts surrounding the incident has uncovered no chargeable actions on the part of (Hammack) and this case has been closed as not sustained and no further action will be taken."

The Herald complained Trooper Hammack was illegally controlling access to "plain view" accidents or situations in Calhoun County. Trooper Fred Hammack told four Calhoun emergency personnel, the State Police had received a letter from Charleston saying The Hur Herald was not allowed on their scenes. Hammack also said The Herald had also been advised of the agencies position. A Freedom of Information request regarding the "banned letter" was not validated by the State Police. They said "no such letter letter exists."

"We received no such notice and Trooper Hammack, apparently lied about the matter," said Editor Bob Weaver.

"This is a form of censorship," said Weaver. "If they are doing this to The Herald, can you imagine what they are doing to our citizens." He said numerous Calhoun cases are coming to the surface and raising eyebrows.

"Some of them indicate critical problems regarding law enforcement" he said.

Beyond the coverage of public view incidents, the West Virginia State Police have declined to provide any public information regarding Calhoun cases. FOIA requests have been denied regarding State Police activity or budgets.

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.

Trooper Hammack ordered The Hur Herald, under threat of arrest, to leave the scene of an accident on Nobe Road. He said photographs are not to 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.

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 and other incidents 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."

The access to plain view scenes is the same for reporters as for the public.

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.

Weaver, who has testified in favor of a Civilian Review Board, said he gave his oral misconduct complaint against Trooper Hammack to a State Police officer in Grantsville, after which Weaver went to lunch at the Grantsville Hotel.

"The investigating officer was there conversing with the local troopers, having a few good laughs," he said.

"Professional misconduct complaints about due process, First Amendment rights, lying, or general lawbreaking on the part of a State Policemen, generally do not become sustainable offenses. Usually there has to be some violence," Weaver said.

Since the State Police said Trooper Hammack did nothing wrong, "We could assume The Herald is no longer allowed on State Police scenes," he said. "Such antics will likely to continue."

"Will we allow this kind of illegal control to stand, a definite violation of civil liberties and constitutional rights?" he asked.


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