It’s hard to imagine Tony Hopfinger as a cause celebre in a Senate race, but in Alaska’s wild campaign, this may be the topic to watch in tonight’s debate. The Alaska Dispatch blogger found himself detained by Joe Miller’s security force after an altercation, one apparently started by Hopfinger himself. The Alaska Daily News gives a mostly-dispassionate look at the curious incident:
The editor of the Alaska Dispatch website was arrested by U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller’s private security guards Sunday as the editor attempted to interview Miller at the end of a public event in an Anchorage school.
Tony Hopfinger was handcuffed by the guards and detained in a hallway at Central Middle School until Anchorage police came and told the guards to release Hopfinger.
Hopfinger has not been charged but the owner of the Drop Zone, the private security firm that’s been providing Miller’s security, accused Hopfinger of trespassing at the public event, a town hall sponsored by the Miller campaign. The owner, William Fulton, also said Hopfinger assaulted a man by shoving him.
Trespassing is not a charge one associates with arrest, and isn’t likely to stand up when the event was held at a public venue like a public school, regardless of whether it was rented for the night by the campaign. Reporters have a public interest in attending, even those who report from blog sites.
However, that doesn’t give reporters the right to initiate physical assault, as Hopfinger apparently admitted to the ADN reporter during his interview:
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. 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. …
Hopfinger said that after he shoved the man away, the guards grabbed him, cuffed his hands behind his back with steel handcuffs and sat him in a chair in the school hallway, Hopfinger said.
If a reporter starts shoving security guards in any setting, he should expect to get arrested by the security guards as a consequence. That’s battery, and that charge does result in arrest. Miller has the right — and probably the duty — to provide security for his events, and private security guards have the ability to detain people who violate the peace. Anyone doubting that has never worked in retail and watched private security detain suspected shoplifters, as well as those who become disruptive. They had better be clear on the basis of the detention, however, because if they have no basis for it, they can themselves be charged with false arrest.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem here, though, since Hopfinger himself admits to shoving a security guard. Throwing the first punch doesn’t make one a martyr for the cause. It may, however, make for a lively debate tonight.