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Writer hit by police at poll

A journalist and author from New York was punched in the back and arrested by a deputy after he refused to stop photographing early voters waiting on a public sidewalk in West Palm Beach.


Palm Beach Post  01 November 2004


WEST PALM BEACH - A widely published investigative journalist was tackled, punched and arrested Sunday afternoon by a Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy who tried to confiscate his camera outside the election supervisor's headquarters.

About 600 people were standing in line waiting to vote early when James S. Henry was charged with disorderly conduct for taking photos of voters about 3:30 p.m. outside the main election office on Military Trail near West Palm Beach.

A sheriff's spokesman and a county attorney later said the deputy was enforcing a newly enacted rule from Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore prohibiting reporters from interviewing or photographing voters lined up outside the polls.

But the arrest drew outrage from a leading Florida civil liberties expert and even from another Florida election supervisor.

When Deputy Al Cinque tried to grab Henry's camera, Henry ran about 100 feet across the pavement on the side of the election office before he was tackled by the deputy. Cinque yelled at Henry, ''Hold still, stop moving,'' after he pinned Henry on the pavement, punched him in the back and grabbed Henry's left arm to put a handcuff on his wrist, according to witnesses.

Cinque then jerked Henry, 54, to his feet by his left arm and slammed his body against a parked car, where the deputy punched him again as Henry tried to hand him identification cards that were later found on the pavement.

A Palm Beach Post reporter and British journalist Marcus Warren, of The London Daily Telegraph, witnessed Henry's arrest.

So did dozens of waiting voters.

A widely published free-lance journalist, as well as a Harvard-educated lawyer and economist, Henry has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report and The New Republic. According to his website, www.submergingmarkets.com, he is working on ``an election-year book, due out this fall, that explores how the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the democratic world, including countries like Brazil and South Africa, with respect to the practice of electoral democracy.''

Asked why Henry was being arrested, Cinque said, ``You're not allowed to take pictures of voters.''

Henry repeatedly told the deputy: ``I'm a journalist. I'm a journalist doing my job.''

Sheriff's spokesman Paul Miller said that before being transported to the Palm Beach County Jail, Henry was examined by paramedics when he complained of shoulder pain. Henry has been charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence, Miller said.

''We're not going to let anyone interfere with the orderly conduct of the elections process here,'' Miller said.

LePore refused to come to the main desk of elections headquarters to comment on the arrest. She did not return later calls for comment.

One of LePore's peers, Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, called restricting reporters and photographers on public sidewalks outside polling places ``an outrage. I'm shocked. The First Amendment right to be there is absolute.

''Outside our early voting place we had Japanese journalists, the BBC, all kinds of reporters and photographers,'' added Sancho, who is based in Tallahassee.

``It's a public place, a public sidewalk. There is no statute, no law that can take away your right to talk to someone who is willing on a public sidewalk as long as no one is obstructing or interfering.''

Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, also called Henry's arrest an outrage. ``Where did Theresa LePore get the authority to criminalize activities protected by the First Amendment?''

Henry was one of the original ''Nader's raiders'' who worked decades ago with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and was vice president for strategy for IBM/Lotus before he founded the Long Island-based Sag Harbor Group, a consulting firm that focuses on technology strategy.

He has continued his investigative reporting career at the same time, in 2004 publishing The Blood Bankers, a book reporting on ''dirty banking'' in developing countries. The book includes an introduction from former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley.

The Rev. George Wilson, a Presbyterian minister from Long Island, N.Y., who accompanied Henry to West Palm Beach Sunday morning, said Henry was interested in touch-screen voting in Palm Beach County and had arrived to observe the process.

''We flew down this morning,'' Wilson said.

``I can't believe they're treating him this way. He was just standing there taking pictures.

``When did taking photographs outside in a public place become a crime?''

Wilson retrieved Henry's Minolta camera with a large lens from the top of the trunk of the parked car after Henry was put in a sheriff's car.

Assistant Palm Beach County Attorney Leon St. John, who represents the election supervisor, said Henry had been charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, based on LePore's instructions to deputies. He said the charge against Henry was based on new rules LePore implemented Friday, prohibiting reporters from talking to or photographing voters while they are in line outside the polls.

He said she made the rule as the result of ``numerous complaints by voters about being photographed and interviewed.''

However, newspapers and television stations had previously interviewed and photographed voters in line without incident since early voting began Oct. 18.

LePore did not mention any new restrictions on interviews and photographs during a meeting with news media representatives Friday.

Late Sunday, Miller said Henry ''will probably spend the night in jail.'' He was still there late Sunday night on $500 bail.


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