SCReporters

WLTX reporters arrested in Columbia, S.C.

February 1, 2019

Jenna Kurzyna and Susan Ardis, reporters for local ABC affiliate WLTX, were arrested at a public housing complex in Columbia, South Carolina. The reporters were attempting to receive additional public records concerning a carbon monoxide gas leak in the complex that killed two in mid-January.

On the morning of Jan. 29, Kurzyna and Ardis knocked on the door to the office where public documents released by the Columbia Housing Authority are kept, seeking additional information about the ongoing gas issues at the CHA facility, WLTX reported. When there was no response and the office appeared to be closed, the two reporters returned to their car, intending to leave the property.

However, according to a video recorded by Ardis during the incident, a pair of private security officers blocked the exit from the parking lot and approached the journalists’ vehicle.

In the video, an officer can be heard saying, “You are being charged with trespassing after you’ve been asked to leave off the premises several times.”

Kurzyna responded to the officer, “We were in the process of leaving, though.”

Both reporters stepped out of the car as directed and were handcuffed and detained on the premises, despite clearly identifying themselves as reporters, WLTX President and General Manager Rich O’Dell told The State.

A third WLTX reporter seen in the video said that the officers were unhappy that she was filming the incident. The unidentified reporter also recounted that officers informed her that if she crossed onto the housing complex property she, too, would be detained.

Kurzyna and Ardis were released from custody the same day, shortly after 11 a.m.

Bob Coble, Columbia Housing Authority attorney and former City of Columbia Mayor, told The State, “I couldn’t imagine why a reporter was arrested if they identified as a reporter.”

Later that day, the CHA released a public statement, saying, “We, at the Columbia Housing Authority, apologize for the unfortunate incident that occurred earlier today with WLTX reporters, Jenna Kurzyna and Susan Ardis.”

The Housing Authority also stated that they would be holding a meeting with all security personnel later that day to review the incident. “Procedures are being put in place immediately to ensure that this does not happen again.”

WLTX accepted the apology that afternoon, and said, “We are looking forward to working together with the Housing Authority to immediately go through all the public records for the benefit of the residents.”

Kurzyna and Ardis returned to work, and WLTX reported that their Deep Dive team is continuing to review other CHA documents.

O’Dell told The State that, to his knowledge, neither of the journalists were charged nor given a trespass warning.

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

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