Shareblue Media reporter Mike Stark arrested while covering Republican candidate for Virginia governor
Mike Stark, a reporter for the liberal news site Shareblue Media, was arrested in Fairfax County, Virginia on Oct. 28, 2017 while covering the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie.
According to a report on Shareblue, Stark was filming Gillespie's campaign vehicle at the Annandale Parade when a police officer approached him and ordered him to move out of the street.
Stark told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that he told the officer that he was a reporter and complied with the order to move onto the sidewalk. Stark said that the officer then told him to stay away from the Gillespie campaign bus, which he refused to do since he was covering Gillespie.
“I was standing in the street on the far side of the driveway filming the Gillespie RV in anticipation of him disembarking,” Stark said in a statement. “That's when I heard the policeman tell me to get out of the road. I complied, and then he told me to leave the Gillespie vehicle and everyone inside it alone. At that point I told the policeman he'd probably have to arrest me to keep me away from Gillespie. He responded that he would arrest me and approached me aggressively. The ‘conversation’ escalated from there.”
A video of the arrest shows Stark complying with Rogers’ order to step backward, while continuing to argue with him, as a woman in a red jacket and an additional police officer involve themselves in the exchange. (Stark said that he believes that the woman in the red jacket was associated with the campaign.)
After Stark says “Fuck this,” the arresting officer — whom Stark later identified as Mason District Police Captain T.J. Rogers — places his hand on Stark’s right shoulder and turns him against a nearby fence. While Stark has both of his hands behind his back, the officer lifts Stark’s right ankle off the ground, sending the reporter face-first into the sidewalk.
As additional officers rush to the scene, Stark says, “Stop, I will give you my arm. I can’t. You have your weight on top of me. I cannot give you my hand. My hand is beneath me.” Five officers eventually pin Stark to the ground with their knees on the back of his head and his body. They continue demanding his arm as he screams that he cannot comply and begs them to stop.
Stark told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that officers punched him repeatedly in the legs during the physical takedown and said that his attorney told him that this is a common “softening” technique used against non-cooperative subjects.
The takedown left Stark with an abrasion to his head and a few bruises. He refused treatment at the time of the arrest.
“I’ve got a nice bruise on my hip and an ugly scrape on my elbow,” he said. “But as I've said elsewhere, I don't consider this arrest to have been brutal. Violent? Yes. Brutal? No.”
Stark also said that his phone was broken during the incident, and he suspects that the officers may have deliberately thrown it against the ground.
“My brand new phone, a OnePlus 5 that came with Gorilla Glass, was broken during the arrest,” he said. “I don't think it was an accident. When I was on the ground, I heard what sounded like a cell phone striking the pavement immediately after it had been retrieved from my hand attached to the arm stuck beneath my body.”
Stark was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and held in custody for nearly five hours, before being released on a $3,000 bond.
After Shareblue published video of the arrest on October 31, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler held a press conference, during which he defended the arrest and said that it was appropriate for the officers to use a physical takedown technique on Stark because the reporter was passively resisting arrest. (Stark said that he did not resist the officers, but was only trying to put his phone away when the officers took him down.)
Roessler told the press that the officer who arrested Stark might have feared for his safety.
“You must understand that, from the officer’s perspective, he does not know who this gentleman is,” Roessler said. “The gentleman is wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He does not know if this gentleman has a concealed weapon. He does not know what intent this gentleman has, whether it’s to create harm or something else.”
Stark said that he explicitly identified himself as a journalist to the officers who arrested him.
Roessler told the press that the officer who arrested Stark may not have believed Stark when he said that he was a journalist.
“He doesn’t know him personally or who he is, and anybody can say anything,” Roessler said.
Stark, who has written critically about Gillespie’s campaign, said that the campaign has previously had him removed from events held on private property and has “disinvited” him from the press pool. He believes that the campaign may have asked the police to remove him from the area near the Gillespie campaign bus.
During the press conference, police chief Roessler said that he did not know whether the Gillespie campaign had any conversations with the police concerning Stark.
“I have no knowledge of that right now,” Roeller said. “We are investigating this. And if there are any witnesses I would ask that they contact the Fairfax County Police Department. Our Internal Affairs Bureau is actively going out seeking witnesses and networking the community to understand the full picture here, and as I mentioned earlier, our police auditor will also review our completed investigation and report our findings to the community.”
A police spokesperson referred the Freedom of the Press Foundation to Roessler's press conference and declined to comment further.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Stark was not wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Stark told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
On Feb. 13, 2018, a Virginia judge found that Stark was guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and imposed a $500 fine on him, the Washington Post reports.
Stark told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that he plans to appeal the judge's decision.
"I'm appealing," he said. "I think there were flaws in my trial that once corrected, will establish my innocence."