NY State corrections officer threatens news crew, protects film company shooting crime film

Lt. Dorn, a NY State corrections officer working at Mount McGregor prison in Wilton, NY, threatened to arrest a local news team reporting about a nearby historic site and called in the state police to confiscate the news team’s video.

The story quickly turned from being about the story the news crew was working on–the effect the imminent closing of the prison would have on the nearby Grant Cottage, a historic site open to the public–to being about Lt. Dorn and his efforts to hide the fact that a private entertainment company was filming a movie on prison property.

Among the informational nuggets Lt. Dorn gives the News Channel 13 reporter, Mark Mulholland, is that he can confiscate any film shot by tourists at the Grant site if the prison appears anywhere in the background. However, anyone can shoot a prison flick on the actual grounds of the prison if they pay the state permit fees. And as a bonus they will threaten pesky paparazzi with arrest.

Making it more difficult to square Lt. Dorn’s purported authority to confiscate images wherein the prison appears, is the easy to verify fact that there are many images of the prison available online, including this one from Google maps:

mt mcgregor correctional facility

And if you want a hi-res image of the prison from the area where the NewsChannel 13 was shooting, anyone can buy this shot by photojournalist John Carl D’Annibale of the Times Union:

times union image of prisonAnd any assertion that the prison guard made about confiscating film shot at Grant Cottage, if it contains images of the prison, is belied by this CBS news report shot at Grant Cottage that has several clips of the prison. This was no hidden camera project. It was shot in the open and celebrated on the Grant Cottage website

In a statement defending the State’s threats and efforts to confiscate NewsChannel 13’s video, and the humorously juvenile attempt to block the crew’s return to Grant’s Cottage, the corrections department cited security issues but did not explain what risk the news crew posed in filming, from an offsite access road, a prison that was EMPTY and due to close in a matter of days, and did not mention, not even in passing, the film crew shooting a movie in the actual prison itself.

We regret that this situation escalated, however the WNYT news crew blatantly disregarded a state officer who informed them they were trespassing. Department regulations state that photographs taken while on Prison property require prior permission. This policy is for the safety of all staff, visitors and prisoners. [Emphasis added.]

It’s worth noting that the statement’s characterization (in italics) of how the news crew behaved when told they were trespassing is contradicted by the video. The crew was exceedingly polite and at all times professional. It’s a stunningly inaccurate statement.

This is a very real turn into Noir 101, where a news crew comes to learn that its First Amendments right to report the news gets trumped by a man in uniform armed with nothing but a loud bark, and the State tells a troubling lie about it.

More importantly, from our focus on all things noir, is that the right of a movie crew creating a work of fiction has trumped the right of a news crew reporting facts.