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    Sunday, May 28, 2023

    Arrest of reporter in Bridgeport was an abuse of power

    The arrest by Bridgeport police of a news reporter who was doing her job covering a protest appears to be a gross abuse of power and a violation of the constitutional prohibition against “abridging the freedom of the press.”

    The administration of Mayor Joe Ganim needs to provide a full explanation of why Tara O’Neill, a reporter for the Connecticut Post, was detained, patted down, handcuffed, placed in a police car, taken to the police station and relieved of her personal belongings. Then the mayor and police chief should take appropriate disciplinary action for any misconduct by officers.

    O’Neill works the police beat, having covered the Bridgeport police for more than two years. On May 9, O’Neill was covering a protest of the second anniversary of the police shooting that killed a 15-year-old Bridgeport resident, Jayson Negron, during an apparent car theft. He was unarmed. Though a subsequent investigation concluded the shooting was justified, many in the community take a different view.

    Things turned ugly during the protest when demonstrators were ordered by police to clear a street, leading to a couple of projectiles being tossed in the direction of the officers. As police moved in, O’Neill did her job. Standing on the sidewalk, she observed what was happening and recorded the situation on her smartphone. Not only a reporter, but any individual, would have the right to do so if she was not interfering.

    When police told her to move, O’Neill identified herself as a reporter. She displayed a press credential. Matt DiRienzo, vice president of news and digital content for Hearst Connecticut Media, which includes the Connecticut Post, said the reporter was almost certainly recognizable to officers.

    “Tara O’Neill is a dedicated reporter who is well known to Bridgeport police and police leadership. There’s no chance this was a case of mistaken identity,” DiRienzo said after the incident.

    Despite identifying herself, she was apprehended.

    It looks like police were trying to suppress coverage of the situation. Or maybe O’Neill had written stories police didn’t like. Reporters do that. In any event, this abuse of police authority is unacceptable.

    Police have a tough job. They maintain civil order. But they also have extraordinary power. It should concern everyone when those powers are used, without justification, to curtail freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Ultimately, O’Neill faced no charges because she broke no laws.

    Yet she was apprehended and handcuffed. Someone should be held responsible.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser, retired executive editor Tim Cotter and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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