When reporting on security brings violence from sheriffs and newspaper publishers
I'm an irregular investigative journalist, a man for which our constitution promises the liberty to speak and proceed to press, and to report on our officials.  When I do reporting on government and its officials and employees, I am often threatened or encounter actual violence to my peaceable collection of information.  We need to find a way to help people dig deep, more safely and securely.  But here is one of my stories -- please post more.

About April 2015, I encountered a new slate of Commissioners in Butler County.  Having attempted to thoroughly research security at the Butler County Courthouse, through all relevant offices, beginning November 2013, I faced stonewalling at nearly every turn.  They are not 18 Pa.C.S. § 913 compliant there in the first place, they run checkpoints without ordinance or legislative designation, and so on.  Instead of the incident in State College in 2008, I wanted to be completely read in before I faced down the evils in Butler County.  In 2014 I was arrested for disorderly conduct while attempting to enter their court/county building and using lockers.  I still don't fully or truly understand it.  Everything went fine until some sheriffs got mad after the fact.  In any case, when I addressed the new Commissioners in 2015 about the yearly total economic cost of having people go through checkpoints, all three showed an interest in receiving my report.  

A few days later, I was inspecting the security objects in the lobby while sheriffs were not working on screening anyone.  They became increasingly questioning and annoyed.  The problem is, my past right to know requests were denied for various reasons.  In any other case, the records responsive would be too voluminous to work with.  So the only way to make the request was to specifically identify the objects in use.  Eventually one of the three sheriffs idleing there told me I had enough and hit me on the chest twice with his wand.  I told him to not hit me in a way to bring attention to this assault, and he began chasing me.  He was trying to grab the back of my suit jacket as if he had watched a western the night before, to toss me out of 'his saloon', but he was old and slow.  Then we had a tom and jerry moment as I had left my bag near the exit door, the chase entirely stopped while I picked up my items, and he shoved me multiple times outside of the doors and said I was banned from the lobby.  Well, how do I get to the district attorney's office to file a criminal complaint if I can't go through the lobby?  Later the chief deputy chastised me but said I wasn't banned, but that I couldn't continue collecting information in the lobby.  Would they have treated "a real journalist" that way?  All the deputies were informed that I was seeking to make a right to know request and that I was the press, prior to my ejection.  They would never give me the video of the chase in the lobby.  I never finished my report.

On 2020-03-02, I went over to the recently moved Butler Eagle newspaper, which previously was very closely across the street from the government building (where employees could see the daily violations of courthouse entrants thru some of their windows), to ask some questions of them during their 150th anniversary, during which they boasted their government reporting.  I decided to ask what a real journalist would do when faced with violence.  Some certainly have been in some places.  I talked to the managing editor who acted like she'd never heard of violence to journalists before but she entertained me.  We had a fine conversation, while she was telling me security made her safe.  I said it was obviously unsafe for me.  I random man came out and said to her that she shouldn't bother talking to me, but could if she wanted.  I don't know who the guy was.  Then he said that I was NOT CREDIBLE.  I turned to him, he behind this big desk, and said, "NOT CREDIBLE?"  I was quite confused.  Then he told me how I was something along the lines of full of shit, and attempted to eject me from the grounds.  I didn't know him or if he had the authority.  On my way out, I said come to the courthouse with me, it would be easy to see.  So I then spend hours walking up and down the road of the industrial-residential area where this publishinghouse and newspaper offices were, and held up their 150th anniversary paper, announcing, extra,extra, 150th anniversary, still protecting criminality at the courthouse.  A few hours later, the man unidentified went to his car in the front lot, came out to the road, so as I retreated to the curb, he drove over in the parking areas, and said he thought I was a dick. He told me his name and that he was publisher.  but his town was much different, almost welcoming, so I offered to shake his hand and try anew, he chastised me, get my hand out of his car. Fine.  Then he suggested he wanted to hit me with his car.  When I went over many feet in to the parking area, holding up my paper, plenty of room for him to pull into driving space and leave, he accelerated his car at me and tried to hit me.

Bingo.  Somebody's hiding something if my asking journalists about violence from the courthouse causes the publisher of a newspaper to try to hit me with his car.  

I have never seen that sort of thing from a journalist... journalists hurting journalists.  Later, I was harassed by the county sheriff chief deputy, who apparently had no job at the courthouse to attend.  I told him to stop blocking the road.

When you do the legwork, you find out who the bullies are and who goes to what extent to deter the activities.  In the past, a reporter would speak with me when requested, and they published a few articles on me.  No news is bad news.  But I have NO IDEA what precipitated this behavior.  I am easily ignored.  Why try to hit me with your car when your own cameras would catch it?

No outlets I contacted responded, including a letter to the editor that I wrote to butler eagle that wasn't published.  No one wants to know about a publisher of a newspaper who wanted to and then tried to hit me with his car, where most certainly there is video and/or eyewitness accounts?  My concern is less that he tried to hit me, and more about how journalism has been corrupted at his newspaper, if so.

The way I see it, you're probably not doing good investigating if there aren't threats and violence.  People like me are easy to ignore, for I have little recourse. But when they raise the stakes and their own risk, you know they have something to protect, you just need more boots to the ground to find it.

Talk about your experiences with threats and violence when reporting on government and newspapers.

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