Hamilton police aren’t offering any explanation for why two journalists were arrested at the scene of a fatal crash in suburban Hamilton yesterday.
Freelancer Dave Ritchie and Global News’s Jeremy Cohn were arrested at a scene in Waterdown, where a 10-year-old girl was struck and killed by a van on Tuesday evening.
The arrests were condemned by a national media organization, which demanded an inquiry into the police actions.
Police Chief Eric Girt says he is reviewing the incident, but in a statement, he offered no explanation as to exactly what occurred other than to say there were “interactions” between an officer and the journalists.
“During the scene management of this fatal motor vehicle collision investigation, there were interactions between a member of the Hamilton Police Service and members of the media responding to the scene,” Girt said. “As a result of these interactions, two individuals were arrested.”
Cohn was “released unconditionally,” while Ritchie was charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Police say Ritchie will appear in court on June 15.
“As the matter is now before the courts, no further comment will be made in order to respect the court proceedings.” Girt’s statement reads.
“As chief of police, I take the arrest of any member of the media seriously. As a result, I am reviewing this incident in the context of what transpired yesterday.”
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) president Alice Klein issued a statement about the arrests, which was addressed both to Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Girt.
“We call on Hamilton Police Services to drop the charges against Ritchie and demand an immediate public inquiry into the circumstances which lead to the forceful detention and arrest of members of the media,” she said.
“It remains unclear what lead Hamilton Police Service (HPS) officers to believe that forcefully detaining two working journalists was a necessary or correct course of action.”
Coun. Terry Whitehead, who sits on the local police board, told CBC News that he plans to bring up the issue with the police chief before the next police board meeting.
“Clearly I’m not going to pre-judge anything. Police do what they do, and they do a good job at it,” he said. “But I will expect some clarity at the next board meeting.”
Thanks for the support, I have great relationships with many first responders. This was an isolated issue and I will be seeking resolution.
— DR (@Media371) May 17, 2017
Neither Ritchie nor Cohn were available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Global News spokesperson Rishma Govani told CBC News that they are “very concerned” about the circumstances surrounding Cohn’s arrest.
“While we are satisfied he was quickly released without charge, the incident merits further investigation and we will be following up directly with Hamilton Police Service,” she said.
CJFE also called for Hamilton police to, “consider instituting a force-wide media relations policy and train frontline staff on how to interact constructively with members of the press, and hope such an administrative process will give clarity about the crucial role journalists have in a democratic society.”
— Peel Paramedic Union (@OPSEU277) May 17, 2017
People who have worked with Ritchie offered their support on Twitter.
“[Ritchie] is a huge supporter of paramedics and all Emergency Services,” wrote the Peel Paramedic Union. “This is strange.”
The Niagara Paramedic Association also weighed in:
— Niagara Paramedics (@NiagaraMedics) May 17, 2017