A newly released video shows an Ohio National Guard officer instigating a confrontation with a national TV news reporter during a press conference in Ohio Wednesday, which resulted in the correspondent and not the general being violently tackled and arrested by police. The Pentagon called the officer's behavior "not acceptable."
Evan Lambert of NewsNation was arrested after delivering a live report from East Palestine, Ohio, when police officials asked him to stop due to concerns over noise. Gov. Mike DeWine was speaking to update the media on safety measures surrounding a local train derailment.
A body camera video from an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper shows that Ohio National Guard Maj. Gen. John Harris appears to be the aggressor, speaking to Lambert’s cameraman during his report while a state trooper motions Lambert to stop.
Upon finishing his report, Lambert turns to Harris. When the camera turns away for a few seconds, it is unclear what happened. When the camera returns to Lambert and Harris, they appear to be arguing, but no audio is heard.
In the video, Harris appears to push Lambert and point at him, and the pair seem to be pointing at each other and speaking animatedly. Harris told police that Lambert approached him “in an aggressive manner,” which made the military officer feel threatened.
Audio from the footage begins after Harris appears to push Lambert, and another trooper tries to stop Harris from continuing to direct his attention at Lambert.
“I am allowed to be here,” Lambert says as officers surround him.
“You were told to shut it down. You continued to argue,” Columbiana County Sheriff Brian McLaughlin, one of several law enforcement officers now gathered around Lambert, says. “Go now, or you can go to jail.”
Despite repeated requests from the officers to leave, Lambert refused, explaining that he was there to listen and report on the presented information and would not be hindered from doing his job under the First Amendment.
The sheriff and other officers continue to insist that Lambert steps outside the gym and, as they do so, raise their voices.
As Lambert states, “I’m going to listen because it’s my job,” the officers block his path, and a person who identifies himself as a building supervisor joins in, asking Lambert to leave.
Then, suddenly, officers began dragging him out of the gym by grabbing him by the arms, and after reaching an entryway, the officers lunged at Lambert and violently threw him to the ground before handcuffing him and taking him to jail.
East Palestine police claimed that Lambert tried to pull away from them, but the video doesn’t support that claim.
There are significant discrepancies between the publicly available video evidence and what police officials say.
East Palestine Police Chief J.C. Brown III sent The Advocate a press release in response to questions about the incident.
Brown included a comment in an email along with the press release.
“As noted, the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office and local law enforcement only responded to the area after the interaction between General Harris and Mr. Lambert evolved into a physical altercation,” he said.
According to the press release, Harris and Lambert got into an argument that was disruptive to the press conference.
DeWine has said in multiple media appearances since the incident that he thought it was wrong for a journalist to be obstructed from doing their job and that it wasn’t until there was a commotion at the back of the room that the governor heard anything.
Dan Tierney, press secretary for the governor, tells The Advocate that Gov. DeWine "has always respected the media’s right to report live before, during, and after his press briefings, and the interruption to the reporter’s broadcast should not have taken place.”
“The general informed officers that [Lambert] was coming at him in an aggressive manner, General Harris, feeling threatened, pushed Lambert-McMichael away.”
In the video, it appears that Harris is the aggressor, and nowhere does it show Lambert threatening the military general.
“Sheriff Brian Mclaughlin, Chief Deputy Jen Tucker, and Lt. Caleb Wycoff, along with Det. Haueter then went back and advised [Lambert] that he needed to leave the gymnasium because, at that point in time, the situation evolved into a physical confrontation and required law enforcement intervention,” Brown continued.
According to Brown, his officers and deputies from the sheriff’s department only responded “because the situation...had escalated.”
The press release states that Lambert refused to leave and was told by multiple officers to do so, which the video supports.
The police chief claims that “to deescalate the situation,” officers asked Lambert to step outside before an East Palestine School District representative inserted himself into the scuffle and asked Lambert to leave.
“With all reasonable means to deescalate exhausted, Det. Hauter and Chief Deputy Tucker attempted to escort [Lambert] from the building so the press conference and safety plan announcement could continue without delay,” Brown wrote.
“[Lambert] was advised he was being arrested, and while escorting [him] out, he attempted to pull away and was then placed under arrest for criminal trespassing, at which time he resisted arrest. During the struggle, [he] was taken to the ground by Det. Hauter and Chief Deputy Tucker in an effort to maintain control of [him] while preventing injury to the involved parties. While on the ground, [he] was not listening to the officers and was attempting to get up. [Lambert] eventually complied with the officers, stopped resisting arrest, and was transported to the county jail by the County Sheriff’s office,” the police chief claimed.
In response to The Advocate's questions regarding how DeWine feels about the video, Tierney said the governor was aware of the footage but that "the video does not seem to contradict either person’s statements about their recollections of the incident."
When reached, Lambert directed The Advocate’s inquiries to a NewsNation representative who said that the journalist would not be available to comment.
Michael Corn, NewsNation’s president of news, responded to the claims by saying Lambert was doing his job and the videos speak for themselves.
“It is infuriating as a veteran law enforcement officer, even though I’m retired, to see a power trip like that,” former Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee told NewsNation. “It’s reprehensible to think that the people that we entrust with not only our country’s security but that city’s security, that they would just trample over the First Amendment rights of a reporter simply doing his job.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder addressed Harris's actions during a Department of Defense press conference Friday afternoon.
"Let me be clear," Ryder said, responding to a question about whether it's acceptable behavior of a commissioned officer to interact with a civilian journalist in the way the video showed.
"The answer is no, that that's not acceptable behavior. The secretary of Defense, the Department of Defense absolutely supports — strongly supports — a free and independent press."
He said that questions about the incident should be directed to the Ohio National Guard, "but I can assure you that is not acceptable behavior."
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