Deputy Sheriff strikes reporter Paul DeMain at LCO accident scene

Produced by Paul DeMain & Nick Vander Puy

Reserve, Wisconsin (NFIC/LCOTV): Updated August 22, 2008

 On August 21, Sawyer Country Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle provided a letter indicating that their request for investigative reports and written statement, to date, had been provided and that he and Sheriff James Meier would be reviewing all the matter to come to a conclusion as "what path they will take to address the issue." Zeigle noted that an officer's basic training, not addressed in the manual, is that one of the first things taught to recruit is to "make sure than any scene is safe, safe for the victims, Law Enforcement/EMS workers, the General Public."

Included in the letter, at DeMain's request was a copy of those portions of the Sawyer County Policy and Procedures manual which addressed many of the issues DeMain has raised to date. Included in portions of the manual are the following statements and guidelines:

Item #3: Individual Dignity and Respect: "An Officer must treat a person with as much respect as that person will allow, and he/she must be constantly mindful that people with whom he/she is dealing with are individuals with human emotion and needs. Such conduct is not a duty imposed in addition to an Officer's primary responsibilities; it is inherent in them."

Openness of Operation: Law enforcement operation in a free society must no be shrouded in secrecy. It is necessary that there be a full public disclosure of policies and an openness in matters of public interest.

Item #5 Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer: A police officer is the most conspicuous representative of government and to the majority of the people, he/she is a symbol of stability and authority upon which they can rely. An Officer's conduct is closely scrutinized, and when his/her actions are found to be excessive, unwarranted or unjustified, they are criticized far more severely than comparable conduct of person in other walks of life. Since the conduct of an Officer, on or off duty, may reflect directly upon the department, an Officer must at all times conduct him/herself in a manner which does not bring discredit to themselves, the Department, or the County.

Use of Force: Officers are often confronted with situation where control must be exercised to effect arrests and to protect the public safely. Control may be achieved through advice, warnings, and persuasion or by the use of physical force. While the use of reasonable force may be necessary in situation that cannot be otherwise controlled, force may not be resorted to unless other reasonable alternative have been exhausted or would be clearly ineffective under the particular circumstances. Officers are permitted to use whatever force is reasonable and necessary to protect others or themselves from bodily harm.

I. Media Relations, 4. In the case of major fires, natural disasters, major crime scenes, etc., the department will make every effort to allow media access for photographs and videotape within the limitations of public safety and crime scene integrity.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. (John) Van Hollen said on August 14th that he would address requests from the media to provide an understanding of press protocol as it applies to law enforcement officials dealing with the press. The Attorney General was in Hayward, Wisconsin as part of a Round Table Discussion on Law Enforcement and Judicial issues in the region and included Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal representatives, State Representative Gary Sherman and Senator Bob Jauch. (A WebTV Youtube stream of the A.G.s comments was added on Aug. 15)

DeMain recorded parts of the Round Table Discussion and Attorney Generals comments with the same flip-video WebTV recorder he was using on August, 7 when an officer attempted to either break or take the recorder away.

On the night of August 7th, NFIC reporter Paul DeMain arrived at the scene of a head-on car accident on Gurno Lake road on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Reservation. After ascertaining the scene is calm and no issues of sensitivity in filming are required he began taking pictures what he hopes will be a short video clip to go along with basic facts of the accident.

It appears that while there are injuries, no major gruesome scene is taking place and there is no attempt to get any closer, nor is DeMain interfering with anything other than standing off the side of the road.

And in fact, as the video clip will show, it is a very calm, professional scene of tribal and non-tribal government personnel working together. A LCO tribal officer, Joe Valentine is shown interviewing two witnesses, Rick House and Charlotte Quagon, between the two vehicles involved in the accident.

A Sawyer County Sheriff Deputy, Brian Knapp arrives at the scene (of many other people already there) and focused on DeMain who was taking pictures with a small flip-video WebTV recorder. The officer stops for a moment to review on one of victims, Greg Miller being worked on by an EMS responder. Standing over the man with his back to the DeMain is a new LCO officer, Donny Morrow.

Both Morrow and Knapp turn slightly and can be seen looking at DeMain. At this point, according to LCO Police Chief Bill Morrow, and county investigator Tim Ziegle, officer Donny Morrow tells Deputy Knapp, something to the effect, "remove that guy taking pictures."

Deputy Knapp crosses the road and in a loud demanding voice tells DeMain to leave the scene, a request that DeMain responds by asking, "How far back do you want me to move?"

The officer, grabbed the recorder as DeMain asked the question, and the Deputy squeezed the recorder which turned off the record button temporarily. DeMain then identified himself as a member of the press and the Deputy according to DeMain responded something to the effect, "I don't give a f.... who you work for."

DeMain attempted to get the officers hand off the recorder, who then struck him with his flashlight leaving bruises that are photographed by Sawyer County Criminal Investigator Gary Gillis on August 9th and Aug. 12th as they investigated the case. Sawyer County Sheriff's Chief Deputy, Tim Zeigle is in charge of the investigation.

According to DeMain, the two issues he has raised have been the specific conduct of one single officer, and asked what the written policy or training is that guides the Sheriff's Department, EMTs, tribal police and other public officials or workers in relationship to the constitutional protections of the press are. That document was provided a few days later.

DeMain also told Zeigle that the officer had not said anything to him that he would consider a racially oriented remark.

In this WebTV segment, which is three digital clips combined, some of the officers actions are recorded.

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Deputy Brian Knapp. DeMain asked, "Imagine how many people he could have arrested or beat with his flashlight for recording the Minneapolis bridge collapse events in 2007?"

At the time the officer grabbed the recorder and tried to either take it away or break it, the recording ended for a moment until it was restarted. DeMain said this is also when the officer struck him with the flashlight. A LCO tribal police officer, Joe Valentine moved into the scene around that time as well, but does not say anything. He can be seen behind deputy Knapp near the end of the video.

The officer then alternatively pushes, shoves and grabs DeMain, leading him back some 200-300 feet to a spot well behind all the accident and emergency vehicles, and in the dark and demands that DeMain "stand there and do not move" or be arrested.

Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal police chief, Bill Morrow was on vacation and did not respond to the accident, but would have generally taken the commanding role of overseeing the accident scene which is within the LCO reservation boundaries according to one tribal official who asked not to be identified at the present time.

In thirty years of writing stories, DeMain said he has never once been arrested or beaten with a flashlight before, despite covering fires, car accidents and other serious incidents. He said he intends to wait for the official investigative report on the assault allegation before deciding what avenue he will pursue.

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J.B. Van Hollen

DeMain indicated that since the incident over a dozen journalistic colleagues, attorneys and organizations to date have responded. DeMain is drafting a letter to the Wisconsin Attorney General's office and Wisconsin Newspaper Association that raises at least three questions. 1. What are the constitutional protections for media access to events when tax paid public servants are performing their jobs on public lands and roadways; 2. What laws prevent a member of media, or general public from taking pictures of any kind? (ie: preservation of evidence, privacy issues, and; 3. What written policies or laws grant a law enforcement officer discretionary authority to prevent a member of the press from access to a accident or other investigative scene?

"As the Attorney General has said, there are points of discussion and a need to find a balance between the two professions, law enforcement and media, both who have a job to do," said DeMain. "The officer's specific conduct is a different issue."

A car westbound at a curve on Gurno Lake road and driven by Gregory A. Miller, 30 of Ziibiins Trail of New Post went off the road, over corrected as he came back on the road and went into the east bound lane hitting the other car driven by Sharon M. Lussier, 57 of Bemidji head-on. The westbound car missed two young people on bikes just moments before the crash occurred according to one of the neighbors, Rick House, who heard the crash. Miller, Lussier and another individual were conveyed to the hospital.

Miller was was cited for causing injury by intoxicated driving and driving while his license is suspended.

"Identify yourself! Because it does not matter "

WebTV incident from August 7 and DeMain on Aug. 8, 2008

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"Within the law there are things that balance, and restrict these things"

WebTV interview with J.B. Van Hollen, Aug. 14, 2008

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