Last night in Alaska, security guards hired by Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller's campaign handcuffed Tony Hopfinger, editor of the website Alaska Dispatch, after the editor was involved in an altercation at the town hall event at an Alaska middle school.
"Hopfinger, who was holding a small video camera, said he was attempting to draw out a statement from Miller on why he was disciplined by the Fairbanks North Star Borough when Miller worked there as a part-time attorney," the Anchorage Daily News reports. "After Miller walked away, Hopfinger said, he was surrounded by Miller supporters and security guards and felt threatened, so he pushed one of them away."
Miller tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the contract his campaign signed to host the event at the middle school "required that we have so many personnel on hand for security.” Miller says he wasn't present when the handcuffing occured, so he can't say if the security guards' actions were justified. “We hired the security team, the security team assessed the situation themselves," he says. "They made a decision based upon their training and experience. So I wasn’t there when that particular event occurred. So I’m not in a position where I can interpose my personal opinion."
Given my experience with political campaigns calling the police on me and shoving me to keep me from asking questions, a few people have asked me for my personal opinion on the matter. So, let me stipulate: following a politician and asking the politician questions as he leaves an event is perfectly normal. On Capitol Hill, it's what happens at the end of every Nancy Pelosi press conference and every Tuesday Senate policy luncheon.
Common manners dictate that there are at least a couple things reporters shouldn't do, such as blocking a candidate's movement or following the candidate into the bathroom--Joe Miller accused Hopfinger of doing both those things. Still, you can't justify handcuffing a reporter for this out-of-line behavior.
But Fulton, the security guard, says that Hopfinger "shoulder checked" an attendee:
Fulton did not know the name of who was "shoulder checked." It wasn't one of our guys," he said. "It could have been anyone. (But) I saw that shoulder check as being violent."
If Hopfinger "violent[ly]" pushed someone, the detention by security guards may have been justified, just as mall cops can detain someone until police arrive following an assault. But Hopfinger tells a different story:
He said the only person he remembers touching is Fulton. Hopfinger said he put his hand on Fulton's chest to try to push the former soldier back.
"I was being pushed into a lot of people," Hopfinger said. "I used my hand. It all happened in seconds. He said it was a private event. He grabbed me and said, ‘You're under arrest'."
So, was Hopfinger just trying to get away after being pushed first? Or did he aggressively push the security guard--or another attendee--without justification? We don't really know. The ADN reports Hopfinger's video recording has been erased:
"One of the guards grabbed Hopfinger's video camera. Later, Hopfinger said that when he got the camera back, the segment covering the span of the arrest was missing. An Anchorage police officer offered to take the camera into custody and have it examined in the crime lab to investigate whether evidence had been destroyed, but Hopfinger declined. He said he needed the camera and the remaining video for his work."
Why Hopfinger didn't hand his camera over to the police for a day or two is a little suspicious. Surely, having the police prove that the security guards erased his recording--which contained evidence backing up his version of events--is more important than whatever he recorded today or a couple hundred dollars for a new camera. Hopfinger did not respond to a voicemail from THE WEEKLY STANDARD requesting comment.
With that said, it's more than a little suspicious the individual allegedly "shoulder checked" has not yet been identified or come forward to back up the security guard's story, and it's doubtful the security guards actually needed to hand cuff Hopfinger while they were waiting for the police to arrive.
I was lucky to have an audio recording to prove that the Scozzafava campaign was lying when it claimed I screamed at the candidate, and I was lucky there was a video recording to prove that I didn't push Martha Coakley's aide in January. Maybe the middle school has a video recording that can help clarify who is telling the truth in this incident.