When the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office held a “gun buyback” event at the North Jacksonville Baptist Church this summer, PINAC reporter Jeff Gray was told by JSO officers that he had to leave the property because he was not there to sell guns.
“Are you with the media? Can I see some ID?” said one officer. “They only want people on the property that are selling guns.”
Meanwhile, a FOX30 Action News vehicle arrived to the church soon after PINAC reporters were told to leave the property under threat of arrest for trespassing. The FOX30 team was allowed to stay by JSO officers.
“Do you have your media credentials from the Sheriff’s Office?” JSO Lieutenant Lewis asked Gray, before kicking him off the property. “You are welcome to sell a weapon and leave.”
Fast forward to November 15 when JSO held another gun buyback event at Christ’s Church, inviting the public to sell their guns, and Gray and Thomas Covenant attempted to cover it.
“Where’s your press credentials?” JSO Detective Jared Reston immediately asked Gray. “Do you have a media card issued by the Sheriff’s Department?”
Both Gray and Covenant have PINAC press credentials that includes their names and photos. But neither these passes nor any credentials issued by law enforcement agencies carry any more legal weight than citizens without press passes. The PINAC press passes are merely a method to identify the men as correspondents on assignment.
In events open to the public, especially involving government agencies, the First Amendment is all the press pass we need
After being kicked off the property by Detective Reston for not having a JSO media card, Gray and Covenant visited the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, where they were told JSO had abandoned the practice of issuing media ID cards in 2007. Officials at the JSO building provided Gray with a written memo documenting JSO’s abandonment of its media ID card practice.
“The JSO does not issue media passes,” stated the memo, signed by Sheriff John Rutherford.
In fact, anybody found using an obsolete department-issued press pass can be subject to arrest.
But somehow Reston never received the memo.
Were PINAC reporters discriminated against by JSO officers at the gun buybacks? The last officer Gray encountered at Christ’s Church leaves little doubt.
After all, PINAC will probably not take the feel-good, softball approach that the local television stations tend to do.
After Gray moved to the public sidewalk outside the church, he was approached by JSO Officer Bacon (yes, that is his real name) and threatened with arrest for trespassing.
“You want to arrest me for being on public property, be my guest,” said Gray, who had already moved to a public sidewalk. “Get back to your car and shut your mouth. You’re an idiot.”
Officer Bacon, who had refused to identify himself by badge number, walked away.
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