(CNN) — The Wall Street Journal is demanding answers from the Phoenix Police Department after an officer detained and handcuffed one of its reporters outside a Chase bank, an incident that press freedom advocates say raises issues related to the First Amendment and reflects the growing hostility of local law enforcement toward journalists across the country.
The incident between reporter Dion Rabouin and the Phoenix agent occurred in late November but became public this week after ABC affiliate KNXV reported on the matter. In a statement, The Wall Street Journal is “deeply concerned” about the treatment its reporter received and has asked the Phoenix Police Department to conduct an investigation.
“No journalist should be detained for merely exercising their First Amendment rights,” the newspaper stated.
In response, the Phoenix Police Department, which is under investigation by the Justice Department to determine whether its officers retaliate against people “for conduct protected by the First Amendment,” stressed that the incident occurred on a property private, but that the department had nonetheless shared the concerns raised by the newspaper with the Office of Professional Standards and that an investigation was underway.
The crux of this matter is a rather innocent act of journalism. While visiting his family in Arizona for the Thanksgiving holiday, Rabouin, who is black, tried to interview passersby on the sidewalk of a Chase branch for a story about savings accounts, he told the Chase affiliate. Phoenix.
Bank representatives approached him and asked what he was doing, and Rabouin said he identified himself as a journalist. Rabouin stated that he was never asked to leave, but that an officer soon arrived on the scene.
Rabouin said he simply offered to stop reporting from the scene, but bystander video shows the responding officer handcuffs him, puts him in the back of a police vehicle and even threatens to push him inside if he does not obey. The video shows Rabouin repeatedly identifying himself as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, but the agent doesn’t seem to care. The passerby who started recording the incident was also threatened with arrest.
Finally, after about 15 minutes, when other officers appeared, Rabouin was released. A Chase representative said Thursday that the bank had apologized to Rabouin for the incident. But the local police department has so far refrained from doing so.
In a letter dated December 7 from The Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Matt Murray to Acting Phoenix Police Department Chief Michael Sullivan, the editor called the officer’s conduct an “offensive on civil liberties” and demanded to know what steps the department was going to take to “ensure that neither Mr. Rabouin nor any other journalist are subjected to such conduct again.” The newspaper said Thursday that Murray had not heard back from Sullivan.
For press freedom advocates, this incident is representative of many others that occur each year in the United States. According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, at least 218 journalists have been detained in the country since 2020.
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told me in a statement that “the alarming number of incidents we have recorded in recent years in which police have detained, arrested or assaulted journalists doing His work threatens to stun this kind of essential newsgathering.”
Brown added, “The time has come to hold law enforcement accountable. The Phoenix Police Department can start now.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists also alerted about the incident. Katherine Jacobsen, the organization’s program director for the United States and Canada, said Rabouin’s arrest “highlights a very real threat facing reporters, especially local ones, across the country.” Jacobsen added that it is “disheartening to see acts of hostility toward journalists working in the United States.”
Through a spokesman, Rabouin declined to comment Thursday. But he posted a Tweet on the matter.
“Thank you to everyone who has offered their support,” Rabouin wrote. “We hope to hear from the boss or someone from the department soon.”