Joe Killian was just trying to do his job.
The investigative reporter with North Carolina Policy Watch was sitting in the state House gallery watching North Carolina legislators debate House Bill 17, a bold piece of legislation that drastically limits the power of the incoming Democratic governor, when he was arrested on Thursday evening.
Protesters and members of the press had just been removed from the Senate gallery shortly beforehand, including a colleague of Killian’s.
“When she was ousted and couldn’t get back in, it occurred to me that if I get ousted from the House gallery, I’m not going to see or hear anything,” he told The Huffington Post. “My outlet is completely without eyes and ears.”
Killian introduced himself to an officer from the North Carolina General Assembly police force. After showing the officer his press credential, Killian explained he would be sitting in the gallery quietly writing.
“If you have to clear the gallery like you did the Senate, I’m going to stay and I’ll just be here writing,” Killian says he told the officer. “I’m not in any way protesting or obstructing anything.”
The officer agreed to such terms, says Killian. Soon, protesters started chanting, and North Carolina House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R) called for the gallery to be cleared.
“I told them I didn’t intend to leave, I was going to stay and continue to report the news,” Killian said, adding that an officer told him he would be arrested. “So they arrested me.” He was charged with second degree trespassing and breaking legislative building rules.
Killian said the arresting officers were “polite and professional about it” but Killian added that “they don’t need to remove reporters.”
But more reporters and protesters were ejected from the gallery on Friday.
A statement from NC Policy Watch maintains that Killian should not have been arrested for doing his job.
“We respect the House of Representatives as an institution and the Speaker’s authority, as well as that of security for the General Assembly,” said NC Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier and NC Policy Watch Director Chris Fitzsimon in a statement. “We believe in the end the judicial process will resolve this issue and find our reporter was simply exercising his right to cover the news as it was unfolding in front of him.”