- Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

WILTON, N.Y. (AP) - An upstate New York TV crew was threatened with arrest by corrections officers as they tried to film at a public historic site on the grounds of an empty, soon-to-be-closed state prison, the station said.

Mark Mulholland, a reporter for Albany’s NewsChannel 13, was working Thursday on a story about Grant’s Cottage, the site in the Saratoga County town of Wilton where President Ulysses S. Grant died, according to the station’s account. He was confronted by a lieutenant from the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility who said the crew had not gotten prior permission to film on prison grounds and ordered them off the property while demanding their footage.

Officers in the meantime allowed tourists access to the site, the station reported.

Eric Hoppel, the station’s news director, said Friday that Mulholland’s crew had no problem covering re-enactors marking the 129th anniversary of Grant’s death on Wednesday, but ran into trouble returning the next day for footage showing the proximity of Grant’s Cottage to the prison, which is closing Saturday.

He said the story Mulholland was working on involves concerns at Grant’s Cottage that people won’t know it will continue operating with a full slate of activities after McGregor shuts down.

A department spokesman said Friday the prison is being staffed until Saturday. The last inmates were moved out about three months ago.

Mulholland was on an access road when confronted by the corrections lieutenant, Hoppel said.

“No filming,” said the officer, according to Mulholland’s report.

“We’re doing a story on Grant’s Cottage,” Mulholland said.

“It doesn’t matter,” the officer said, later adding, “You’re going to leave the mountain now.”

“You’re telling us we can’t visit a historic site?” Mulholland asked.

“No, you’re going to have to run that through Albany,” the officer said.

Soon after, the crew was blocked from getting closer to the cottage by another officer in a car. The lieutenant later called state police to stop Mulholland and take the recording.

A short while later, Mulholland was allowed to leave with the video after talks between the station and state officials.

In a statement, the state Department of Correctional Services told the station it regretted the encounter had “escalated,” but the news crew “blatantly disregarded a state officer who informed them they were trespassing.” It also said Mulholland violated a policy intended to ensure the safety of all staff, visitors and prisoners.

The New York State Associated Press Association condemned the interference and said it hoped Gov. Andrew Cuomo would take action.

“The actions of the Department of Corrections officers were an infringement on their First Amendment rights to report the news,” NYSAPA President Ken Tingley said in a letter to journalists across the state Friday. “We believe that the Channel 13 crew is owed an apology and that news media across the state need to be assured by Department of Corrections officials and Gov. Cuomo that this incident will be investigated and disciplinary measures taken to ensure that people’s rights to a free press are not infringed.”

The corrections department didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether the officers’ actions could be the subject of disciplinary action.




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