U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Man arrested, pleads guilty to threatening West Virginia-based news crew

Incident Details

March 21, 2023

An Ohio man threatened a WTRF-TV news crew reporting outside the Jefferson County Justice Center in Steubenville, Ohio, on March 21, 2023. The man, Santino Chiovitti, 20, was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty to inducing panic, according to court records.

WTRF, which is located 40 miles away in Wheeling, West Virginia, reported that a man first called the newsroom on March 21 to demand that it take down an article about his sister’s arrest the day before. While speaking to News Director Brenda Danehart, Chiovitti allegedly became belligerent and verbally abusive, reportedly saying, “I think I see a WTRF car down the road, why don’t I just blow their heads off?”

Chiovitti hung up on Danehart before calling back and reaching Web Manager John Lynch. According to WTRF, Chiovitti asked whether he was speaking with the reporter he was looking at outside the justice center in Steubenville, which houses the sheriff’s department, county prosecutor’s office and juvenile detention center.

The station reported that Chiovitti then approached the WTRF news crew while reaching into his jacket as though he had a firearm, telling the journalists — who were covering a press conference — that they’d want to hear what he had to say and instructing bystanders to leave.

Chiovitti was arrested on one felony count of inducing panic and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 175 days in prison, which was stayed — meaning he will not serve the time — pending the completion of one year of probation and attendance of a counseling session.

WTRF reported that Chiovitti may face additional charges in Wheeling for the threats against the station. The office of the prosecuting attorney in Ohio County, West Virginia, reached by phone in May 2023, was unable to confirm whether there is an ongoing investigation into Chiovitti but said there are no open charges against him.

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