Sixth sense kicked in: “It is dangerous,” says photojournalist at Fleming drive

Chuck Dickson, who has 29 years of experience filming the news and has worked in Bosnia, Haiti and Ipperwash, said the experience of covering the Fleming Drive riot on St. Patrick’s Day ranks as No. 1 or 2 on his list of dangerous situations.

When the CTV newsroom began fielding calls that a frantic situation was developing at Fleming near Fanshawe College, Dickson hopped in the company’s SUV and headed to the hot spot as he has done many times before.

While he felt no danger to himself upon arrival, he was surprised at how quickly violence erupted.

Using his camera clock, Dickson had an exact time by the second for everything he saw that night.

He parked away from the mob and sought protection while he filmed against houses and garages, never turning his back on the crowd.

The crowd was chanting, “You F….ed up,” to the police, when he arrived at 10:30 p.m.

“I don’t know what they were referring to. The whole crowd was chanting. There had been arrests,” he said.

At 10:38 p.m. he had film of people throwing rocks at police. Some in the crowd told him of police brutality. Dickson refutes that.

“I didn’t see one example of police brutality. One of the things that impressed me the most was that the police were so restrained.”

The mob was throwing full bottles of beer and liquor at police.

At 10:45, Dickson called back to the newsroom to say this was a full-blown riot.

“It was starting to heat up just in the 15 minutes I was there.”

Police tried to disperse the crowd by putting on their sirens and driving around. It was a tactic that didn’t work.

“It just seemed to get the crowd going a little bit more.”

Someone ripped off a phone box and threw it. “I could see this stuff continuously hitting cruisers and police.”

The crowd got braver as they were getting away with this activity.

“It seemed to be, ‘Well, they haven’t done anything to us yet.'”

At 11:17, sections of a fence were torn down and boards thrown toward police.

Dickson said there were no discernable leaders of the pack.

Dickson expected tear gas, but will not comment on whether or not police should have used gas.

“That would be me trying to second guess the commander on the ground and I don’t have all the information. I just say they would have been well within their right to fire tear gas.”

At 11:21 p.m., all of the police moved out. They got into cruisers and drove out along Fleming toward the college. The mob swarmed after them. That’s when they came upon Dickson’s SUV.

As they repeatedly smashed the vehicle and started rocking it until it fell over, Dickson noted one woman who was particularly upset and disgusted with what was happening.

She offered to give him money for cab fare.

He also realized he needed to leave for his own safety.

“I got a couple of last shots (of his vehicle being damaged). Your sixth sense kicks in and says, ‘It’s dangerous enough. You need to get out of here.'”

Dickson got an EMS vehicle to take him out to the command  post where he informed police he was OK but the vehicle was torched.

Interestingly, he got a call from someone the next morning who found a camera bag and tripod that had been taken from the car. While it was missing some equipment, some had been left in the bag. He estimates about $3,000 in equipment was taken (not included the cost of the vehicle).

The gas tank in the vehicle exploded. On a cellphone video Dickson watched later, he saw flames shooting out of his vehicle.

There was a topless woman dancing near the vehicle. When the flames shot up, someone can be heard screaming in the video. Dickson assumes the woman, who had her back to the SUV, got burned. She was about 15 feet from the car when it exploded, he said.

While on scene, he also saw a woman in a lot of pain from being hit with a beer bottle in her face near her eye (he believes she was a photography student) and another woman who appeared to have glass in her foot.

Dickson said his footage was seized by police, who had a warrant and came into the newsroom.

He also had to give a statement to police.

Dickson stayed at the scene until about 4 a.m. He referred to the incident as a spectator sport. “I don’t understand it,” he said, but he was glad he was able to help tell the story. 

He added, “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

His experience kept him safe as he did his job and then he knew when it was time to go.

 

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13 thoughts on “Sixth sense kicked in: “It is dangerous,” says photojournalist at Fleming drive

  1. KR-well-written, well-done. Fine reporting here. This piece should be freelanced to your fomer employers and others.

    Interesting to note difference in press-freedom and “shield laws” between US and Canada. In the US the press does not do the bidding of the police. The material the press collects (short of a capital crime, i.e. evidence of murder) is off-limits to the police. The police would be hard-pressed to prove they had any right to seize the work product of a working journalist, (Fourth Amendment, Constitution) and short of arresting the reporter in a suspicion of instigating or involvement in a criminal act, the idea that a judge would issue a warrant for tapes recording an incident such as this would be a violation of hard-fought constitutional protections.

    I am not a media lawyer, but would be curious what LFPress media lawyers’ and others in the legal community thought on the matter. I know that many Canadian press-freedom laws are still untested and in flux.

    The reporter above was at the location doing a legitimate job as the agent of ‘the people’s right to know.’ He was not sent there by an order of the police. He was not deputized, conscripted or otherwise commissioned to work as an agent of the police. His first allegiance and responsibility as a reporter therefore was to inform the public. It is a much different job to act as an informer for the police

    • In my experience, reporters never wanted to give up notes or other material to the police. This information belonged to the newspaper. There may be something in the notes that would give away an anonymous contact which would be grievous.
      In the case of video, there is so much of it recorded by cell phones that police would likely have all that they need.
      Chuck told me that he was not in the building when police came with a warrant. Would be interested to know if there was much of a fight put up before the tapes were handed over.
      Once there is a warrant, there is not much you can do though. Resistance means serious charges will be laid.

  2. This was issued by London Police:
    On Saturday, March 17, 2012, the London Police Service conducted a directed patrol in the Fleming Drive area to address various concerns. As a result police issued 111 PON’s throughout the day. Since this date police have maintained a directed patrol and have issued an additional 67 PON’s in the same area. PON’s have been issued for offences related to open liquor and excessive noise, along with Highway Traffic Act infractions. Also, despite the recent events which have occurred, a fire was ignited by an area resident on their driveway. This resident received a PON with a $240 set fine under the City of London By-law of “set unauthorized open air burning”.
    From Chief Brad Duncan: “It is frankly disappointing that police continue to locate infractions in this area despite a highly visible police presence. The London Police Service has clearly indicated that we are taking a zero tolerance approach with strict enforcement of municipal, provincial and federal statutes. The message could not be any clearer and violators will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. This neighbourhood will not be subjected to any further disruptive and unlawful behaviour.”
    If anyone has any information that may help this continuing investigation they are asked to call the London Police Service tip line at 519-660-5842 or email tip@police.london.ca.

  3. Continued from my first comment above to make a point of comparison—Fourth Amend.to the Constitution of the United States–deals with unreasonable search and seizure. And, I can’t believe I left out the most important one: First Amend. freedom of speech, religion, and freedom of the press.

  4. Thanks CRD and KR—
    I guess letter abbreviations throw me off.
    I looked up PON and found a good overview at: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/justice-ont/tickets_and_fines.asp

    Provincial offences are regulatory (non-criminal) offences that include, but are not limited to:

    Speeding, careless driving, or not wearing your seat belt
    Failing to surrender your insurance card or possessing a false or invalid insurance card
    Being intoxicated in a public place or selling alcohol to a minor
    Trespassing or failing to leave premises after being directed to do so
    Occupational Health and Safety Act and Ministry of Environment violations
    Noise, taxi and animal care city bylaws.

    I wonder how many PON’s will ultimately be written as a result of this task force, and how many will go to trial. Do any readers know what dollar amount some of the fines are on the specific PON’s that will be issued?

  5. Seems the update from the FLPress.com reporter below answers my questions:

    “Riot area still hot spot for cops
    FLEMING DRIVE: Despite a zero-tolerance approach, not all residents are getting the message

    By KELLY PEDRO, The London Free Press

    Last Updated: March 23, 2012 10:59pm”

    The reporter points out that 111 PON’s were issued at St. Patrick’s day riot (and more have followed with the stepped-up enforcement since then).
    With fines mentioned at $250, I wonder how many of these fines will be paid, or will end up in court and charges eventually dropped for any number of legal reasons.

  6. Hello KR, I re-read your March 26th comment above and would like to inquire a little bit more on your statement: “reporters never wanted to give up notes or other material to the police. This information belonged to the newspaper.”

    Is this your opinion, is this in the employee manual, or does it indeed have a basis in legal fact (provincial or federal precedent)?

    It is hard to believe that a reporter is muzzled a priori either at the point of being hired; or by some peculiar absent or unsettled law; or by neglect …such as a newspaper’s lawyers declining to defend the reporters (i.e. preventing the public’s right to know and have independent access to observe the activities of government (police included).

    You also wrote: “He also had to give a statement to police.”
    “Had”? How does that work..if he wasn’t there when they came with their I presume, ‘search warrant’ and not a ‘warrant’ for a statement. Was he under arrest?

    Isn’t it curious that he didn’t publish the contents of the warrant or his statement, suggesting his first allegiance is not to the profession of journalism but seemingly to the profession of law enforcement.

    In my opinion, clearly, he is in the wrong profession.

  7. Anyone,
    Journalists believe the notes belong to them and the organization they work for. At least journalists I know. However, police can come in with a search warrant to get the info they seek.
    You have to allow them in but that doesn’t mean you make it easy for them. If they want the notes, they have to find them in a newsroom littered with lots and lots of paper and notebooks and pictures and junk, etc., etc.
    Mr. Dickson gave a statement about the van that was damaged. I suppose “had to” isn’t exactly correct but i suspect if it could help with insurance claims on the vehicle and bringing those who destroyed it to justice, it was the best move.
    I don’t know that he didn’t make his statement or warrant public.He didn’t to me, but then again, I didn’t ask him for either.
    His statement could be found through FOI access. I suspect the newsroom still has a copy of the warrant. I can ask him if you would like to see it.
    I have made statements to police and I never received copies of such.

  8. Yes, if Mr. Dixon agrees to disclose his statement and warrant, I think this would add a very interesting dimension to the discussion here and serve to advance the idea of full-sunshine on public-police encounters…especially when it involves a journalist.

    As he is probably aware, he can obtain all of the Officer’s notes/report pertaining to the incident that personally involves him through a FOI request that he can make at the Police HQ. Usually takes a few weeks. It may also be interesting for himself to see a comparison between what he thinks he said to the Officer(s) in an oral statement and what actually is finally included in their notes .

    Do you know if he actually made a statement to the Insurance company? What company and how are they responding?

  9. Just checking in again to see if there are any other updates to your piece here and this line of inquiry on this topic.

    I understand many more individuals have been charged since your post.

    It is possible to assume this was made easier by the information found on Mr. Dickson’s tapes and notes that were handed over to the Police. What does he think about that?

    There are also questions: If his footage was of people on private property, it may be argued by these individuals that he violated their right of privacy by recording them without their permission. Further, if he was actually also standing on private property, the individuals whom he documented may also have a case against him for this as well.

    Had any/all of the material that was handed over been previously broadcast?

    When the warrant was presented and Mr. Dickson was not there, who accepted the warrant and retrieved the material? Was the warrant limited only to the newsroom…not his vehicle, residence, production/editing computers?

    Who examined the warrant: the editor, the management, publisher, the organization’s media lawyers?

    Prior to the warrant arriving, had Mr. Dickson discussed this with the organization’s lawyers? If not, how about since? Moreover, has he retained his own personal lawyer?

    Contrary to what you had suggested above, I doubt if it is ever a good idea to allow the police to be given open access to the entire newsroom. You wrote: “You have to allow them in but that doesn’t mean you make it easy for them. If they want the notes, they have to find them in a newsroom littered with lots and lots of paper and notebooks and pictures and junk, etc., etc.” I can’t imagine you would ever want to have police rummaging willy-nilly through everyone’s sensitive, confidential notes, sources, work product, documentary material, photos, film… to let them “find” anything they want. An indiscriminate search may give access to all manner of information beyond the original scope of the warrant.

    And far from suggesting that reporters do what unequivocably I would think is illegal (and I’m not a lawyer) such as hide, or evade, hinder, ignore or frustrate the terms of the warrant, (and far from a “fight ” and “resistance”) it certainly is though within the reasonable right of those subject to a Police warrant to examine the accuracy and specificity of the warrant and comply within strict terms of time/scope/location etc…all the time supervized by the news organization’s lawyer, and to have other reporters recording all of the Police activity during the search.

    I have never been a crime beat or court reporter, never crossed police lines. I have never had to give evidence as a reporter in a police matter. I have never reported on or been party to criminal behaviour, as a witness to anything in a life-threatening scenario, or on a crime to myself or others that would necessitate Police to confiscate notes. However, I have seen similar activity transpire to colleagues. and can see major ethical issues here and wonder if Mr. Dickinson or others have contacted professional journalism societies, think tanks such as Poynter Institute (St. Petersburg, FL), academic contacts at J-schools, and assorted independent Press Freedom watchdog orgs. hotlines and media lawyers for guidance?

    Will Mr. Dickson be called to testify in court?

    Has he been contacted by lawyers from the people charged?

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