U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Two journalists in different states say police called on them while reporting

Incident Details

February 20, 2024

In February and March 2024, two reporters in separate states said they had the police called on them while they were conducting everyday reporting duties.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Justin Garcia had the police called on him on Feb. 20, 2024, by the city’s fire chief after he showed up at the Tampa Fire Rescue department headquarters, looking for documents about a firefighter who had recently been fired, according to Garcia, who spoke to the U.S Press Freedom Tracker, and the newspaper.

Garcia told the Tracker that he was informed that he needed to submit the request through an online portal, which he had already done. According to Garcia, he also cited Florida's Chapter 119, which states that “all state, county and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person.”

After going back and forth with Personnel Chief Robbie Northrop, who is not a public records custodian, the police were called, even though Garcia was acting within his capacity as a reporter, he told the Tracker. Garcia left before police arrived and was not arrested.

According to records obtained by the Times, Northrop first asked a lower-level employee to call the police, who said she did not have time to make the call. Fire Chief Barbara Tripp eventually called the police on Garcia, the Times reported, adding that it was unknown who asked Tripp to call the police.

“No one ever should call the police on a reporter even if that reporter is being belligerent, obnoxious and aggressive,” Adam Smith, spokesperson for Mayor Jane Castor, told the Times. Both the Times and Garcia maintain that he never raised his voice or was disruptive in any way.

In the second incident, WTIC-TV news reporter Matt Caron said in a tweet on March 8 that Connecticut public school officials had called police while he was reporting live about “racism and bullying” that his outlet’s reporting had exposed.

“I was standing on public property,” Caron wrote. He added that he would use the Freedom of Information Act to request the bodycam footage “to see what was said.”

Caron did not reply to a request for comment.

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