The Phoenix Police Department said it has launched an internal investigation after the Wall Street Journal demanded the probe on behalf of a Black reporter who was detained and put in handcuffs while interviewing customers outside of a bank.
According to the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Editor-In-Chief Matt Murray sent a letter to Police Chief Michael Sullivan last month, expressing "deep concern" over the treatment of Dion Rabouin, one of the newspaper's finance reporters.
“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 said in the letter. “Such conduct is offensive to civil liberties, and also a pretty good news story.”
Spokeswoman Sgt. Melissa Soliz told the Post that the police department’s professional standards bureau is conducting an administrative investigation in response to the allegations. Soliz said the interaction between the reporter and the officer took place on private property.
The incident occurred on November 23, but news broke this week through reporting by local television station ABC15 that included bystander video.
Rabouin told the station that he was visiting family in Phoenix for Thanksgiving when he went to a local Chase Bank branch to seek comments from customers on a story he's been covering.
After talking with pedestrians for 40 minutes outside of the bank, two employees approached him.
"I identified myself, I said, 'I'm a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, working on this story about savings accounts,'" Rabouin said. "No one asked me to leave. That was the last I heard from them."
A Phoenix police officer later arrived, walked inside the bank, and spoke with one of the workers. According to an incident report, the employee told police that she asked Rabouin to leave the premises and he refused.
The officer then approached Rabouin.
“He asked who I was; I had told him I was a reporter and told him what I was doing,” Rabouin said. "He said, 'well, the folks in the bank want you trespassed.'"
Rabouin said he was surprised by the encounter because he thought he was on public property. The WSJ reporter offered to leave.
"If they don't want me here, I don't need to be here; I can go," Rabouin recalled saying.
However, the officer didn't let him go.
Video captured by a bystander begins when Rabouin is being handcuffed by police and placed in the back of a cruiser. Rabouin can be heard telling the officer multiple times that no one asked him to leave the property and that he was willing to leave on his own.
"There was a very real feeling that my life could be in danger for doing nothing more than standing outside of bank trying to do my job," Rabouin told 12News of his interaction with police.
Following the incident, Rabouin filed an internal complaint but was notified by a Phoenix official weeks later that they found nothing wrong after reviewing the situation, per ABC15.
“As journalists, we don’t really want to be the story. We want to report the story,” Rabouin 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.”