U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter John Harvey arrested and cited for ‘disorderly conduct’ at Pennsylvania State Capitol

Incident Details

Date of Incident
June 11, 2018

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Harrisburg Capitol Police
Unnecessary use of force?
John Harvey

Screencap from video footage recorded of the incident.

June 11, 2018

Democracy Watch News journalist John Harvey was arrested at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex in Harrisburg, while filming a sit-in on June 11, 2018.

The sit-in was part of the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival,” which carried out a series of nonviolent demonstrations across the country during the summer of 2018.

On June 11, the Poor People’s Campaign was in its fifth consecutive week of activity at the Pennsylvania capitol building, according to PennLive.com.

Harvey was one of nine people arrested and cited for disorderly conduct during the protest which occurred just outside the entrance to the House Chamber, according to PennLive.com.

Video of the incident show Harvey filming the initial arrests while standing along a banister with other reporters a short distance from the entryway.

According to Harvey, the protesters had already performed a number of actions at the Capitol that day without incident.

“I’m not sure exactly why at that point they [Capitol police] decided they were going to remove these protesters that were performing the sit in, as they’d had various other opportunities to do so,” Harvey told Freedom of the Press Foundation.

After the first demonstrators are lead away in plastic cuffs, Harvey can be seen moving slightly forward for an unobstructed view of the final arrests of two older protesters, including an elderly woman with a walker. As she is slowly lead away, Harvey told Freedom of the Press Foundation he was shoved and accosted by a stranger who scuffled him against a wall.

“This guy he’s screaming, he’s screaming, he’s screaming,” Harvey said, “Well, by then why would I even think he’s a cop? I think he’s some lunatic who feels that my coverage of this poor people’s event is incorrect or it’s bringing attention to them that shouldn’t be brought to them.”

Harvey said he’s been attacked a number of times by people for doing his job as a journalist and assumed this was another such incident.

Video footage shows a man in a taupe blazer and tie repeatedly yelling “knock it off” while grabbing Harvey’s left arm and wrist and pressing him back against the wall. The man also shouts “What’s wrong with you?” at Harvey, who can be heard replying, “What’s wrong with you?”

Harvey attempts to point his camera toward the man, but he shoves it away. After Harvey shows the man his press pass, the man can be heard saying he is aware Harvey is a journalist.

“I understand that,” he says. “I’m asking you to keep it clear, for our guys. Now take it easy. Do not block our officers. Do not stand in back of them. Ok? Knock it off.”

Harvey told Freedom of the Press Foundation this was the first time the man indicated he was police officer.

Another officer then tells Harvey to stand against the wall, which he does.

“I’m thinking ‘Ok, fine,’ tell me to stand there and I’ll stand there and film from there. All you need to do is tell me,” Harvey said.

Harvey resumes filming the protesters when another officer is beckoned over and instructed to remove Harvey, which he does along with a Capitol police officer. That officer places Harvey in a wrist lock.

As Harvey is led away, he momentarily films the officer who has placed him in a wrist lock before the officer pushes the camera away. Harvey said he was lead to a room with other protesters, where he waited a significant period of time before officers were able to complete their citations.

Harvey, who was at the Capitol to cover a Healthcare Services Employees Union sleep-in later that night, was barred from the Capitol for the rest of day.

“Gosh, now I have to head back to Pittsburgh, because what I went out there for I can’t do anymore,” Harvey said.

Harvey says the citation was eventually dropped, and he is currently pursuing a number of Freedom of Information Act requests into how new officers are trained as well as officer guidelines for interacting with the press.

“I was placed in a handlock and lead off when those sitting-in weren’t, and I really feel that was an abuse of power,” Harvey said.

“In terms of press freedoms I think it’s inappropriate, because it means that anyone that goes to the Capitol to report on something can be arrested and banned from the Capitol for the day for doing nothing other than their job.”

Harrisburg Capitol police spokesman Troy Thompson did not respond to requests for comment.

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