Cop confiscates, throws away reporter's notes


Student journalists criticize police; officers to be trained in media relations





PENNSYLVANIA - Tensions have brewed to boiling point\nat the University of Pittsburgh between the student newspaper\nstaff and the campus police after an officer ripped up a reporter's\nnotes and then allegedly lied about their whereabouts.

Hal Turner, editor in chief of The Pitt News, said he\nwas "livid" about the actions of the Pitt police on\nthe night of January 27, when Officer Brian Kopp, Turner said,\napproached reporter Chris Griswold and confiscated his notes.\nKopp was following a lead about a man roaming the the campus student\nunion.

The incident began on the seventh floor of the William Pitt\nUnion shortly after 11 p.m. when Turner found five officers, including\nKopp, standing outside a men's bathroom. They told Turner they\nwere responding to a clogged toilet, but when Turner asked the\nattendants at the union's sign-in desk what was happening, he\nlearned that an unidentified man, who had not signed in, was reported\nlingering in the men's bathroom.

Turner left the seventh floor when reporter Griswold arrived\nto cover the incident.

Griswold said he approached the scene cautiously, because he\ndid not want to upset any of the officers, but got close enough\nto overhear and take notes on the entire conversation between\nthe police and the man who was ultimately arrested.

"I walked right through them," he said. "So\nthe police weren't sectioning it off very well if they didn't\nwant anyone that close."

Griswold also said the officers knew he was a reporter for\nThe Pitt News.

The situation then moved to the first floor, where Kopp approached\nGriswold and asked for his notes, which contained a written account\nof the incident including that the officers found a marijuana\nbutt in the suspect's shoe and a bag of what appeared to be crack-cocaine,\nas well as the suspect's name and address. Hesitantly, Griswold\nagreed.

"I wasn't sure what my rights and responsibilities were\nin this situation," Griswold said. "I was just trying\nto get along with him, and I just assumed he knew what was right.\nI felt very intimidated."

Turner happened to be on the first floor and witnessed the\nconfiscation of the notes. He said he waited until the officers\ntook the suspect away before approaching Kopp.

"We had a little confrontation," Turner explained.\n"He first said that he threw the notes away, so I asked him\nwhere. He had only been on two floors, so he should have remembered.\nBut he said he didn't. Eventually he changed his story and said\nhe flushed the notes." Turner and Griswold found the torn\nand crumpled notes in a recycling bin in the union.

According to Turner, when Kopp began to leave, Turner stepped\nin his way and asked him to stay to discuss the matter further.\nSgt. Bartholomew W. Stack was then called to intervene in the\nargument.

Turner asked Stack if it was common practice for Pitt police\nofficers to lie to the public, and Stack said it was not. Kopp\ntold Stack, who was taking a report, that the notes had been flushed.\nTurner then asked if it was illegal for an officer to lie to a\nsergeant taking a police report, to which Stack responded that\nhe could not make a comment because the matter was under investigation.\n

Since the incident, The Pitt News has published a news\narticle and an editorial about the night of January 27, both criticizing\nthe Pitt police.

"They want to keep writing articles, but they don't want\nto come in and talk about it," said Cmdr. Tim Delaney about\nthe ongoing investigation.

Delaney, who is in charge of the investigation, says he still\nneeds to meet with Brett Taylor, the author of the news article\nabout the incident but not an eyewitness, to resolve the investigation.\nHowever, Delaney admits he has talked to the other student journalists\ninvolved.

According to Turner, Taylor called Delaney to discuss matters,\nbut Delaney never returned his phone call.

"Besides," said Turner, "Delaney made it pretty\nclear that he had most of the information he needed, and he figured\nthat Brett's side of the story wouldn't add much information."\n

Delaney could not comment on the situation since it was still\nunder investigation, but did say that he understood Kopp's actions.\n

"Privacy is the issue," he said. "We were trying\nto give the arrested gentleman some dignity. There were things\nthat Chris got a listen to and then mentioned in the article that\nhad no relevance. Chris was too close. Procedurally, he shouldn't\nhave been that close.

"Hal is a very, very aggressive news reporter. We try\nto give the correct information, but when you're asked on the\nspot about something, and the police are trying to tend to the\nmatter at hand, things can get confusing," Delaney said.\n

Delaney's solution is a set of guidelines for the officers\non how to properly work with the media. All University of Pittsburgh\nofficers will undergo a media relations training, which is still\nbeing developed by Delaney and school administrators, a direct\nresult, Delaney said, of the January 27 incident. Topics such\nas the distance an officer needs to keep a reporter from a scene\nwill be discussed.

Turner believes this is a step in the right direction, but\nstill does not resolve the friction between the two groups that\nhas existed for several years. Griswold is not to be blamed for\nbeing too close, Delaney said, after all no officers told him\nto step away.

"They basically think of us as just a bunch of punk kids,"\nTurner said. "That's been the sentiment here at The Pitt\nNews for years and years and years."

Turner also said that the incident came at a bad time for the\npolice department, which has been criticized for not listing all\nuniversity crimes on the police blotter, including a recent rape.\n

"I'm more angered about [Kopp] lying on the report, and\nthey think they can get away with it. It makes you think, 'What\nelse have they been lying about in the reports?' This is very\ndangerous to the students' safety," Turner said. \n


reports, Spring 1999