U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Chicago-area reporter cited for seeking comment from local officials

Incident Details

Date of Incident
October 30, 2023

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Calumet City Police Department
Unnecessary use of force?

A portion of one citation issued to Daily Southtown reporter Hank Sanders on Oct. 30, 2023, charging him with “interference/hampering of city employees” for allegedly harassing Calumet City, Illinois, officials when seeking comment for his reporting.

November 6, 2023 - Update

Citations against Chicago-area reporter dropped

The municipal citations against Daily Southtown reporter Hank Sanders were dropped on Nov. 6, 2023, according to the Chicago Tribune, whose parent company publishes both papers.

Officials in Calumet City, Illinois, had filed complaints over Sanders’ requests for comment on the city’s upkeep of stormwater infrastructure after massive flooding earlier this year. On Oct. 30, Sanders was mailed three tickets citing him for “interference/hampering of city employees,” citing Mayor Thaddeus Jones, Commissioner of Public Works Jerico Thomas and Assistant System Administrator Megan Wilson as witnesses.

Calumet City attorney Patrick K. Walsh sent a letter to a Tribune attorney on Nov. 6, dropping the citations. Walsh wrote that city employees have the right to refuse to comment, according to the Tribune, but acknowledged the argument that asking officials for comment is not harassment.

“As you know, I was not a witness and have no interest in bickering about it,” Walsh wrote.

Tribune Executive Editor Mitch Pugh said that the newspaper is “glad that cooler heads prevailed and Calumet City officials understood the error of their ways and dismissed these charges.”

“We’re glad to see Hank can get back to doing his job serving the readers of the Daily Southtown, and we’ll continue to be vigilant watching how city officials treat him in his capacity of reporter,” Pugh said. “We’ll continue to support our journalists’ right to do their jobs, whether in Calumet City or elsewhere.”

October 30, 2023

Officials in Calumet City, Illinois, allege that a local reporter violated municipal ordinances by asking them questions about the city’s upkeep of stormwater infrastructure prior to massive flooding from heavy rains in the Chicago suburb in September 2023.

Daily Southtown reporter Hank Sanders, who reported on Oct. 19 that Calumet City officials were informed last year by a consultant that the municipality’s stormwater facilities are in poor condition, is accused of “interference/hampering of city employees” by contacting them for follow-up coverage, according to the Chicago Tribune, whose parent company publishes both papers.

Three citations issued to Sanders on Oct. 30 listed as complainants Calumet City Mayor Thaddeus Jones, who is also an Illinois state representative; Jerico Thomas, the city’s public works commissioner; and city employee Megan Wilson, the Tribune added.

According to the paper, the notice referencing Wilson states that between Oct. 4-12, Sanders sent 14 emails and a Freedom of Information Act request to the Calumet City government regarding flooding. The notice referencing Jones noted that Sanders had called the city’s Department of Public Works “several times” since Sept. 17.

City attorneys asked Sanders to cease contacting city employees about the matter while the records request is pending, but said despite the requests, “Hank Sanders continues to do so.”

A U.S. Press Freedom Tracker request for comment from Calumet City officials did not immediately receive a response.

On his TikTok account, Sanders posted about the citations, calling them “ridiculous.”

Daily Southtown’s Executive Editor Mitch Pugh, in a statement published in the Tribune, called the citations “outrageous” and likened them to the Oct. 27 arrest of an Alabama reporter and publisher for reporting on a local grand jury investigation and the August police raid on the Marion County Recorder and homes of the Kansas newspaper’s co-owners, executed while the Recorder was investigating Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody’s background.

“They represent a continued assault on journalists who, like Hank, are guilty of nothing more than engaging in the practice of journalism. From places like Alabama to Kansas to Illinois, it appears public officials have become emboldened to take actions that our society once viewed as un-American,” Pugh said. “Unfortunately, in our current political climate, uneducated buffoonery has become a virtue, not a liability, but the Tribune will vigorously stand up for Hank’s right to do his job.”

Don Craven, president, chief executive and general counsel of the Illinois Press Association, told The New York Times that he was optimistic that Calumet City would withdraw the citations. “We’re hopeful that our lawyer and their lawyer can have an adult conversation and understand that these are out of bounds and they’ll be withdrawn.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].