U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Tennessee Highway Patrol blocks reporters from covering protest, threaten with arrest

Incident Details

Public Domain

The state capitol building in Nashville, Tennessee, was the site of a sit-in protest that resulted in reporters being asked to leave and threatened with arrest.

— Public Domain
April 16, 2019

The Tennessee Highway Patrol threatened several reporters with arrest and blocked them from continuing reporting while they were covering a sit-in protest outside Gov. Bill Lee’s office in Nashville on April 16, 2019.

According to The Tennessean, state troopers told the reporters present that they would be “arrested if they didn't immediately leave the building, despite remaining out of the way and identifying themselves as working members of the media attempting to cover the news unfolding.” The reporters ultimately complied with the order.

Four protesters remained from a larger demonstration in the Capitol building demanding a meeting with Lee to discuss Republican Rep. David Byrd, who has retained his office since sexual assault allegations became public.

The journalists were unable to continue their coverage of the protest, even though the protesters continued sitting outside of the office into the evening and spent the night. The remaining protesters were ultimately arrested.

The Tennessean/USA Today reporter Natalie Allison wrote on Twitter that she was one of numerous journalists — including fellow The Tennessean reporter Joel Ebert, Nashville Public Radio reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, and NewsChannel 5 reporter Kyle Horan — that were threatened with arrest and blocked from continuing to cover the news.

Allison’s colleague Ebert further noted that although the Capitol building does have hours of access, credential press historically have had access beyond that.

The Tennessean article quotes Gov. Lee’s communications director, Chris Walker, as defending the troopers’ actions as standard protocol. "However, we do not condone threatening of arrest to reporters while they are doing their jobs in trying to cover news," Walker said.

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