Capitol Police briefly detained a reporter on Friday, after the journalist lodged a question at a high-ranking administration official being escorted through the hallway.
Department spokesperson Shennell Antrobus told CQ Roll Call an officer was pushed by an individual while managing foot traffic outside a forum held by the American Council on Renewable Energy on the third floor of the Russell Senate Office Building.
But the journalist in question, BloombergBNA’s Ari Natter, and another reporter who witnessed the scuffle, have a different account of events. Natter said in a statement shared with CQ Roll Call that he was trying to ask Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy a question relating to renewable fuels. “She declined to answer, but while this was going on a police officer whose name I did not catch, pushed me away from her,” he said.
CQ Roll Call environmental reporter Randy Leonard also stated that he saw the officer push Natter “with his forearm” as he was walking along with McCarthy, and did not see Natter push the officer.
Natter said he told the officer not to touch him, and went back to covering the event, despite the officer’s instruction to stay in the hall and wait after McCarthy’s exit. The officer tracked the reporter down, according to Natter, and asked him to step outside.
“He asked for my driver’s license and Social Security number,” Natter said. “I asked him why I was being detained and if I was under arrest and he said he was trying to ‘figure that out.’ ” Natter said he was accused of pushing the officer and getting in his way “on purpose,” before the officer “backed off on that.”
Eventually, the officer called for backup, consulted with other police and a supervisor. The situation appeared to be defused and Natter was released.
“We take great pride in working with the media every day,” Antrobus said. “After preliminary investigation it was determined that the act was not intentional. We addressed the issue, resolved the situation and released the individual involved.”
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer called Natter immediately after hearing about the incident to apologize for the “kerfuffle” and explain that the encounter was not representative of Capitol Police’s standard procedures.
“Now again, maybe the officer in his mind had a perfectly good reason — on first blush it doesn’t seem that way to me,” Gainer told CQ Roll Call, after acknowledging that he didn’t have all the facts about the incident and was still investigating. “I don’t think we should overblow this; 99 percent of the time our relationship [with the press] is good. Sometimes things go sideways; I think that’s what this was.”
Natter also said he is ready to move on and put the incident behind him.
Heather Rothman, chairman of the Executive Committee of Periodical Correspondents, which represents BloombergBNA and other Capitol Hill news organizations, also received an apology from Gainer.
“We are looking into this matter and are concerned,” she said in a statement. “Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer contacted both me and Ari to apologize for the treatment of Ari and to let us know he is investigating the incident.”