Wall Street Journal reporter Dion Rabouin was detained on alleged trespassing charges while reporting outside of a bank in Phoenix, Arizona, on Nov. 23, 2022.
ABC15 Arizona reported that Rabouin, who’s based in New York, had traveled to Arizona to visit family during the Thanksgiving holiday. He told the outlet he went to a Chase branch in north Phoenix to interview customers for an ongoing story about savings accounts.
Rabouin, who declined to comment further, said he was standing on a sidewalk outside the building when a pair of employees asked him what he was doing. According to a police report about the incident, bank employees called the Phoenix Police Department to report a suspicious person at approximately 2:45 p.m. and an officer arrived 20 minutes later. The report claims Rabouin told the employees he was a reporter conducting interviews and refused to leave, and that when the officer asked Rabouin to produce his identification, he refused.
Rabouin refuted that account in an interview with ABC15. The reporter said that he had told the branch employees that he was there working on a story and at no time did the bank ask him to leave. When the officer arrived at the scene, he identified himself as a reporter for the Journal.
When the officer told him he was trespassing, Rabouin said that he was unaware it was private property and attempted to leave, but was physically blocked from doing so.
Rabouin told ABC15 the officer started grabbing his arms and when he drew back, the officer said, “This could get bad for you if you don’t comply and don’t do what I say.”
The reporter was then placed in handcuffs. According to ABC15, a bystander saw the situation unfolding and began recording the detainment on her cell phone. The station aired the footage she captured.
“I heard him say he was going to leave,” the woman says in the recording. “This is ridiculous. He’s a reporter.”
In the footage, the officer led Rabouin to his police car and attempted to place him in the back, but the reporter refused to place his feet inside to allow the officer to close the door. The two talked for several minutes until additional officers arrived, and approximately 15 minutes after he was initially detained, Rabouin was released.
According to the police report, the officer informed Rabouin that he was “officially trespassed from the property” and that if he returned he would be arrested and charged.
Rabouin told ABC15 that he filed an internal complaint with the Phoenix Police Department in the days that followed. About a week later, he received a call notifying him that it had reviewed the incident and found no wrongdoing.
In a letter shared with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker by the Journal, Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray called on Chief of Police Michael Sullivan in early December to conduct an internal review.
“I am appalled and concerned that officers at your department would attempt to interfere with Mr. Rabouin’s constitutional right to engage in journalism and purport to limit anyone’s presence in a public location,” Murray wrote. “The Journal and Mr. Rabouin are still determining what further action to take in response to his detention by your officers.”
When reached for comment by the Tracker via email in January 2023, PhxPD spokesperson Sgt. Melissa Soliz acknowledged the letter and said the department had opened an investigation.
“This letter was shared with our Professional Standard Bureau for review and they are conducting an administrative investigation. Once the administrative investigation is complete, it will be made available as part of a public records request,” Soliz said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the Tracker, condemned Rabouin’s detainment and echoed calls for an internal investigation to ensure that no other journalists are hampered or harassed by police in the course of their work.
“Detaining and handcuffing a journalist — who was gathering news in a public place — is a flagrant violation of his First Amendment rights,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen.
The police department is facing ongoing scrutiny from the Department of Justice, which announced in August 2021 that it would be assessing, among other things, whether PhxPD officers retaliate against people engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment or carry out discriminatory policing.
Rabouin told ABC15 that while he as a journalist does not want to be the story, it’s important to share his experience.
“This is a department that’s under DOJ investigation for excessive force, under investigation for the way they operate and handle business, and despite that, they continue to operate this way,” Rabouin said.