The editor of a weekly newspaper in Polson was arrested last week while reportedly taking photos of a car crash, raising First Amendment concerns while details of the incident remain limited.
Vince Lovato, editor of the Lake County Leader, was arrested Oct. 1 and charged with obstructing a peace officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, all misdemeanors, according to Lake County Undersheriff Dan Yonkin.
According to a story published by the Daily Inter Lake, Lovato was taking photos of a head-on collision on Montana Highway 35 when a Montana Highway Patrolman arrested him for allegedly interfering with an ongoing investigation. Lovato was booked at the Lake County Jail and released.
The Lake County Leader is owned by Hagadone Montana Publishing LLC, which also owns the Daily Inter Lake.
Lovato could not be reached for comment and a message was left for him at the Lake County Leader.
A clerk at the Lake County Justice Court said Lovato would have an initial court appearance Oct. 15.
Lake County Deputy Attorney James Lapotka declined to comment on the arrest when reached by the Associated Press.
“I wish I could comment on it,” Lapotka said. “I’ve got a lot to say about it, but I can’t.”
Clem Work, a professor emeritus at the University of Montana’s School of Journalism who taught media law at the school for more than two decades, said the incident in Polson was the first time in recent history that he remembers a Montana journalist being arrested while working. However, he said it is tough to say if the reporter’s rights were violated without knowing all the details of the case.
“If he was just taking a photo of the police doing their investigation, then he is protected by the First Amendment and the Montana Constitution,” Work said. “There is no law against taking pictures or taking notes.”
Lee Banville, who also teaches media law at the School of Journalism, said even without knowing the details of what happened, it was clear someone overstepped their bounds.
“Someone overreacted,” Banville said. “Either the journalist overstepped his bounds and got in the way of a police officer trying to do his work, or a police officer overreacted to what the journalist was doing.”
Lovato has been a reporter for more than 30 years and was hired to head up the Lake County Leader earlier this year. Prior to that he served as editor for the Lake Chelan Mirror and Quad City Herald in Washington and was a reporter for the San Bernardino Sun.
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