CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia reporter was arrested Tuesday at the State Capitol after trying to ask Tom Price, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, questions about the American Health Care Act.
Dan Heyman of Charleston is a reporter with Public News Service and has been in the journalism industry for 30 years. He said he was at the Capitol to speak to Price about the effects of the legislation passed on May 4 by the U.S. House of Representatives.
A criminal complaint indicated that Heyman had entered the space of Price’s Secret Service protection to ask his questions.
There was a media availability with Price in the Governor’s Reception Room about an hour after Heyman’s arrest, although it had not been widely publicized. Reporters from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and WCHS-TV asked Price questions about federal healthcare law.
But Heyman was on his own and in the Capitol hallway when he attempted to ask his questions about the effects of changes to federal healthcare.
According to Heyman, Price, who became secretary on Feb. 10, entered through the Capitol’s west wing.
“I had been working on whether or not domestic violence is a pre-existing condition,” he said. States who receive a waiver from the federal government would be allowed to create high-risk insurance pools for individuals with pre-existing conditions.
Kellyanne Conway, counsel to President Donald Trump, was also with Price at the time.
Heyman, who was using his cellphone as a recorder, said he reached out his arm and asked Price the question “repeatedly” with no answer.
“At some point, I think (the Capitol Police) decided I was too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job, so they arrested me,” he said. “I asked if I was under arrest, and they said yes. And I said, ‘If I’m under arrest, how come I haven’t had my Miranda rights read to me?'”
“They said, ‘Well, we’re not asking you any questions right now.”
Heyman said he waited in an office while officers filed related paperwork. Upon completion, the officers told Heyman he “had the right to remain silent.”
— Public News Service (@PNS_News) May 9, 2017
Heyman was charged in Kanawha County Magistrate Court with a misdemeanor of willful disruption of governmental processes.
“(Heyman) was aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple times from the area walking up the hallway of the main building,” the complaint said. “The defendant was causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”
The complaint cited state code regarding intimidating government officials at the Capitol.
“If any person willfully interrupts or molests the orderly and peaceful process of any department, division, agency or branch of state government or of its political subdivisions, he or she is guilty of a misdemeanor,” the code states.
Those found guilty could be fined $100 and also be sentenced to six months in jail.
Heyman was released Tuesday evening on a $5,000 bond, which his lawyer, Tim DiPiero, said was paid for by someone associated with Public News Service.
“Normally, I would make no comment on a criminal case and recommend to my client that he make no comment,” DiPiero said. “I’ve never had a client arrested for talking too loud or anything similar to that.”
Heyman was wearing the same white Public News Service polo shirt and press pass he was arrested in when he talked to reporters Tuesday evening.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled within the next 20 days, according to DiPiero.
American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia also held a press conference Tuesday night outside of the State Capitol on the matter.
Jamie Lynn Crofts, the legal director of the organization, said freedom of the press should not be undermined.
“We have a president that calls the media ‘fake news,’ and resists transparency at every turn,” she said. “Today, a reporter was arrested for trying to ask a question to a member of the Trump administration.”
Crofts said Heyman was not being disruptive based on present information.
“I have one thing to say to anyone who infringes on First Amendment rights: we’ll see you in court,” Crofts concluded.
Heyman, who joined Public News Service in 2009, said he was just doing his job.
“I am supposed to find out if somebody is going to be affected by this health care law,” he said.
Price took part in a press conference Tuesday afternoon after meeting with Gov. Jim Justice and others about the state’s opioid addiction problems.
Conway, West Virginia Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch; U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va.; Recovery Point Executive Director Matt Boggs; and First Choice Health Systems Vice President and CFO Scott Jarrett joined Price at the media briefing.