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.
Reporters, including @joelebert29, @SergioMarBel, @KyleHoranNC5 and me, should not have faced threats of arrest today for trying to do our jobs in the Capitol. This was the second time this session troopers have attempted to block us from covering news. https://t.co/5kwkeR3Tdi— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) April 17, 2019
Allison’s colleague Ebert further noted that although the Capitol building does have hours of access, credential press historically have had access beyond that.
This is 100 percent wrong and is a break from all previous governors in recent memory. The building has hours of access but reporters have always had access beyond said hours. This is the second time this year that state troopers have stopped reporters from doing our jobs https://t.co/Wzwc6AXUaq— Joel Ebert (@joelebert29) April 16, 2019
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.