Veteran reporter Dan Heyman just had one question for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway: Should being a victim of domestic violence count as a preexisting condition under the Republican health care bill to replace Obamacare?
Price and Conway, however, didn’t answer. So Heyman, who works for Public News Service, did what any good journalist would do: He persisted. Heyman continued following the Trump administration officials down a hallway on Tuesday at the state Capitol building in Charleston, West Virginia, asking them the question over and over.
Then, police arrested him. According to a criminal complaint reported by Samantha Schmidt at the Washington Post, Heyman is charged with “willful disruption of state government processes.” The charge carries the possibility of jail time and a fine of $100 or more.
The complaint alleges that Heyman was “aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol.” It also says that he “was causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.” (The complaint was filed by state, not federal, officials.)
Heyman’s question comes after House Republicans approved a health care bill that would weaken Obamacare protections for preexisting conditions. Critics pointed out that, in the past, domestic violence has counted as a preexisting condition for insurers. The bill still needs Senate and White House approval to become law.
Heyman said at a news conference that he was just doing his job. “This is my job; this is what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I think it’s a question that deserves to be answered. I think it’s my job to ask questions, and I think it’s my job to try to get answers.”
Heyman was marked as a journalist during the encounter with Price and Conway. He had his press pass on, and he was wearing a shirt with the Public News Service logo.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia criticized the arrest and charges, arguing they violate First Amendment protections for journalists and are “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press.”
Price later told Andrew Joseph with STAT that while it wasn’t his decision to make as to whether Heyman should have been arrested, he commended police officers for “doing what they thought was appropriate.” He also added that Heyman “was not in a press conference” when he was arrested. (First Amendment rights, however, extend beyond press conferences.)
This isn’t the first time an arrest involving the Trump administration has drawn ire in the past month. Last week, federal prosecutors took Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz to court for laughing at now–Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his Senate confirmation hearing. They argued that the laugh warranted charges because it was disruptive of congressional proceedings. A jury convicted the woman, but jurors told Ryan Reilly at HuffPost that they convicted for what happened after the laugh, not for the laugh itself. Fairooz now faces potential jail time; she will be sentenced later this year.
If the charges against Heyman proceed, he may soon find himself in a similar situation.