Campus police apologize for arresting cameraman

Officers also to receive First Amendment training

INDIANA — When Ball State University junior Chris Hahn started filming the scene of a car accident on campus last March, the last thing on his mind was that he was doing something wrong.

The university police, however, thought he was.

Less than 10 minutes after he started recording the accident scene intended to later play on the campus television station newscast, Hahn found himself in handcuffs, arrested, he was told, for videotaping injured juveniles.

“I kept telling the officer as he was handcuffing me, ‘I have a right to be here,’” he said. “I told him repeatedly that it was wrong to arrest me.”

Although he was released within 15 minutes and charges were never filed against him, Hahn set out to seek retribution for what the officers had done to him.

Knowing his First Amendment rights to film the accident scene had been violated, Hahn wrote the university police after the incident and demanded a public apology. He also asked that the university police officers be retrained on constitutional rights.

“I gave them an ultimatum — either apologize and get training or I will file suit,” he said.

In April, Ball State Chief of Police Joseph Wehner released a statement to the local media admitting that his officers should have allowed Hahn to videotape the accident scene.

“University police officers are well-versed in constitutional law but mishandled the incident,” Wehner said in his statement.

As Hahn, a telecommunications major, was filming the accident scene, the university officer who later placed him under arrest told him to stop taping. Hahn did and started to walk away, figuring he already had enough tape for a news segment. Soon after, the officer caught up to him and arrested him.

“I knew exactly what my rights were, and it’s good they didn’t press charges,” he said. “They messed up even though I gave them a chance to stop by telling them my rights repeatedly.”

Jeff Alford, director of university relations, said the university police department did the right thing by apologizing to Hahn.

“I think the correct course of action was to admit the officer involved acted incorrectly,” Alford said.

“I’m glad they admitted fault,” Hahn said. “It serves as an example for future cases like this.”

Ball State University, Fall 1998, reports