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A WSJ journalist was detained by Phoenix police while reporting. What that means for free speech

Last week, the Phoenix Police Department said it’s conducting an administrative investigation into the November detainment of Wall Street Journal reporter Dion Rabouin. A Phoenix police officer handcuffed and detained Rabouin on a sidewalk outside a Chase bank.

Rabouin was doing interviews outside a Chase Bank location when it happened. Phoenix resident Katelyn Parady watched and filmed as she said she watched a Phoenix police officer handcuff him. In a cellphone video she took, Parady and Rabouin can be heard saying he was willing to leave.

“I told you I would voluntarily leave,” Rabouin said in the video.

“I heard him say he was gonna leave,” Parady said from behind the camera. “This is ridiculous.”

Gregg Leslie is the executive director of ASU Law School’s First Amendment Clinic.

“The fact that he was saying, ‘I’m willing to leave,’ really negates their need to arrest him,” Leslie said.

While private property laws complicate gathering news there, Leslie said trespass laws are clear. He said if Rabouin was willing to leave, then he should not have been detained.

“I would say it becomes a First Amendment violation when you know you’re interfering with a journalist, you know you’re stopping somebody’s newsgathering,” Leslie said.

According to Leslie, what happened could influence how other reporters exercise their rights.

“In the legal context, that’s definitely creating a harm,” he said. “Even if it just means you know you’ve gotta be more wary of being arrested.”

In a police report, Officer Caleb Zimmerman wrote he was trespassing Rabouin from the property after a bank employee called 911 about a man approaching customers and making them uncomfortable.

In a letter to police, The Wall Street Journal argued that Raboiun, as an American, had a clear right to be on the sidewalk and engaged in news gathering.

Leslie said he hesitates to say this event might produce a chilling effect for journalists doing street interviews, but a civil-rights lawsuit may be worth pursuing.

“It’s always possible that this could happen again, especially if the lesson the police learn is that they did nothing wrong,” Leslie said.

Rabouin did not want to comment further about the incident but said that he hopes to hear from someone at the Phoenix Police Department soon.

Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.