■ Kyle Selby / Reporter
Hemet police arrested a local photojournalist and videographer Monday night at the scene of an auto wreck involving a police vehicle, then charged him with resisting arrest and threw him in jail. John Strangis, who covers the news for The Valley Chronicle among several other news outlets, caught the entire episode on video following the three-car collision at the intersection of Kirby Street and Stetson Avenue.
Strangis was onsite photographing in front of Seven Hills Golf Resort, where a police cruiser SUV had just pursued and collided with two other vehicles that were allegedly street racing. After being asked to step away from the scene, Strangis filmed the moments that ultimately led to his apprehension.
In Strangis’ video, Cpl. Jamie Gonzales is seen ordering Strangis to “back up,” so that they can barricade the scene with tape. Gonzales told Strangis to stand behind the Seven Hills sign near the collision, and he can be seen approaching that spot.
“I was in that location when [Officer Derek Young] approached from behind telling me to go all the way behind a cruiser parked in the middle of the street at Seven Hills, where I couldn’t get anything,” recalled Strangis. He proceeded to tell them that he had the right to be there, or behind the tape, which had not wrapped the scene yet. “I stood there, asked him where the scene would be delineated, and he just told me leave.”
Strangis started walking away, then “stopped for a second to look around.” That’s when Young approached him, grabbed his tripod, and placed him under arrest. Strangis’ camera shot is then seen facing the ground for the duration of the video. “I’ve asked you about five or six times to leave,” Young can be heard saying in the video. “You don’t want to leave, so now you are under arrest.” Strangis can be heard calmly cooperating with Young, despite feeling the arrest was unwarranted.
Strangis, who stood in the same spot other local media journalists were that night, was then transported to Hemet Police Station.
“I was released three hours later with no phone call,” he described. “Although he read my Miranda, not booked, I asked him if he could tell [my wife] Jessica who was in the car waiting for me, where I would be. He didn’t care.”
Strangis says that Young violated his rights as according to California Penal Code 409.5(d), which states that no duly authorized representative from any news service, newspaper, or radio, television station or network shall be prevented from entering areas closed pursuant to an area of calamity.
“Fortunately [Eddie George, Hemet Eye News] found out and got my car and headed to the station,” explained Strangis. “By that time, I was let go with a citation–which I thought was a payable fine–but it was for resisting arrest; a misdemeanor. I never had a problem with the law and will not have a misdemeanor on my record because of this. I am going to fight it if it’s not dropped. I have video.”
Strangis says that the barricade tape was left in place where he was originally planning to stand, and not behind the cruiser he was told to stand behind. “How was I resisting him?” he asked. “I guess he can make that up. I have video.”
According to Strangis, OnScene, a freelance stringer organization of which he works for, called Hemet Police Station, whose dispatch told them they did not have a record of Strangis being there. OnScene called once more telling them that they had proof and that they were at risk of being involved in “a big lawsuit.”