A reporter for The Wall Street Journal is in a position he is not used to.
He is now the subject of a controversial headline after a video of a confrontation with a cop from the Phoenix Police Department started to circulate online. Normally, he is writing about the news, not making it.
The outlet is speaking out on behalf of its employee, Dion Rabouin, demanding the PPD not only review the incident but create a system or policy to ensure journalists’ rights are protected after the incident on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, with him and one of the department’s officers.
Rabouin, who covers markets for the Wall Street Journal, told local station ABC15 he was conducting background research on the sidewalk outside a local Chase Bank branch, around 2:40 p.m., asking various customers about financial services. The reporter says he was unaware the sidewalk he was standing on was private property.
“Things really escalated quickly,” Rabouin said.
The police say Chase workers reached out to them because customers were complaining “that a man was approaching people as they entered the bank asking them personal questions. The interaction between the officer and the man who was the subject of the complaint took place on private property.”
Two bank employees came outside and asked him what he was doing, and he explained he was conducting man-on-the-street style interviews with people regarding their savings accounts. Without incident or asking him to leave, the bankers went back inside.
The New Yorker, who was in Phoenix over the Thanksgiving holiday, said shortly after they went in, an officer pulled up.
“I saw a police car pull up. And the officer came out, walked into the branch, after about 5 minutes came out, and talked to me,” Rabouin said.
According to Rabouin, similar to the bank employees, the officer asked him what he was doing.
He said, “I identified myself. I said, ‘I’m Dion Rabouin. I’m a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. I’m working on a story. I told the people in the branch what was going on.’ And he said, ‘Well, you can’t do that.'”
Officer Caleb Zimmerman was the responding officer and contradicted Rabouin’s account. In his report, he said the writer refused to leave the property and originally refused to identify himself.
ABC 15 was first to report that Journal Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray sent a letter to Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan stating she is “appalled” by the incident she saw.
“I am appalled and concerned that officers at your department would attempt to interfere with Mr. Rabouin’s constitutional right to engage in journalism and purport to limit anyone’s presence in a public location,” Murray wrote.
The chief responded, saying they received the correspondence and are looking into the occurrence.
“The Phoenix Police Department received a letter from the Editor in Chief of the Wall Street Journal expressing concerns about an interaction with one of their reporters and a Phoenix police officer. This letter was shared with our Professional Standard Bureau for review, and they are conducting an administrative investigation,” a representative said in a statement.
The department is conducting an administrative investigation to determine if the officer used excessive force or was unreasonable when he detained and handcuffed the journalist. Once the review is “complete, it will be made available as part of a public records request.”
Katelyn Parady, a bystander, recorded the incident.
Parady’s video is limited and does not capture the entire altercation. It starts as Zimmerman is placing handcuffs on Raboin.
“I heard him say he was going to leave. This is ridiculous. He’s a reporter,” she says in the video.
The footage shows after 8 minutes, two backup officers arrived on the scene. Two minutes later, the cuffs were taken off of Rabouin, and he was asked to leave, or else he would be arrested for trespassing. But before that, he’d been placed in the police vehicle, his identification removed from his wallet, and he’d been written a trespassing citation. The video shows Zimmerman told Rabouin he would not be allowed to leave without getting the citation first.
The reporter left and later filed an internal complaint with the city regarding the incident, claiming he was contacted by an official from the city who said upon their review of the footage, they saw nothing wrong.
“As journalists, we don’t really want to be the story. We want to report the story,” he said. “I think it’s important to talk about. This is a department that’s under DOJ investigation for excessive force, under investigation for the way they operate and handle business, and despite that, they continue to operate this way.”
In a statement, a Wall Street Journal representative said, “Rabouin was detained, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a police vehicle while reporting… No journalist should ever be detained simply for exercising their First Amendment rights.”
As a city, First Amendment rights are a hot-button issue. The feds have accused the city of violating citizens’ constitutional rights in many arrests during the summer of civil unrest. In 2021, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the city of Phoenix, alleging the police falsely charged protesters as gang members.