Journalists Handcuffed, Removed From Taxi Commission Meeting

Is it a public meeting or not?

D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan is investigating why two journalists were arrested, handcuffed and removed Wednesday from a "public" meeting of the city's taxicab commission.

The independent reporters -- Pete Tucker, of TheFightBack.Org, and Jim Epstein, of Reason -- were attempting to record and videotape the meeting when a commission inspector told them they couldn't.

Because the commission was meeting in a U.S. Park Service building, Park Police officers were called and removed the reporters.

Epstein wrote Thursday that he filmed Tucker's arrest on his camera phone. He said 30 minutes into the meeting Tucker was arrested a few minutes after taking a picture with his camera phone. Epstein was stopped while trying to leave the building, then arrested when trying to get the attention of a group of cab drivers, he said. He was released from a cell in the basement of the building in the late afternoon, he said.

The attorney general, who earlier this year instructed the commission to open a previous commission meeting being held behind locked doors, told NBC Washington Wednesday that “I agree that these meetings need to be open and subject to recordings as long as those doing the recording are not disruptive.”

According to D.C.'s Open Meetings Act, a free record of Taxicab Commission meetings must be made available to the public, but the act does not prohibit the Taxicab Commission from banning the taping of meetings. The Taxicab Commission recently adopted a ban on video recordings of meetings because they were deemed disruptive.

According to the Taxicab Commission, Tucker was not arrested because of videotaping but because of disorderly contact with Park Police, the Washington City Paper reported.

Mayor Vincent Gray's office is inquiring into the incident to ensure that the standards of the Open Meetings Act were upheld.

ACLU director Johnny Barnes also is investigating the case. DCist reported that a Washington Post reporter who remained in the room took video of several cab drivers who walked out in protest of the arrests.

DCist also noted that the city has a much tougher open meetings law that that went into effect earlier this year.

Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells, who has oversight of the taxi commission, wrote a stern letter to the attorney general demanding that the incident be fully investigated.

“I am troubled by actions taken by the (Commission),” Wells wrote. “I look forward to receiving your timely response.” 

Wells said he is dissatisfied with the overall operation of the taxi commission and is studying ways of eliminating it, perhaps letting the city’s transportation department oversee the cab industry.

No city charges were filed against the reporters, but Park Police filed initial charges of disorderly conduct against the two journalists.

“We’re not filing any charges,” Nathan told NBC Washington.

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