West Virginia reporter jailed after questioning U.S. health secretary

(Reuters) - A West Virginia journalist was arrested and jailed after following U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price down a hallway in the state’s capitol building and peppering him with questions about healthcare policy, the reporter said.

West Virginia reporter Daniel Ralph Heyman is pictured in this undated police handout photo received May 10, 2017. West Virginia Police/Handout via REUTERS

Journalist Dan Heyman was grabbed by security and handcuffed after repeatedly calling out a question to Price as the health secretary visited the Charleston legislature with White House advisor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday, Heyman said at a press conference after the incident.

“I’m not sure why, but at some point I think they decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job, so they arrested me,” said Heyman, who works for Public News Service, a nonprofit news operation.

A criminal complaint filed against Heyman in Kanawha County, West Virginia said he was “yelling questions” at Price and Conway and “aggressively breaching secret service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times.”

Heyman said he repeatedly asked Price if domestic abuse would be deemed a pre-existing condition under the healthcare bill passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives, but the official did not respond.

Price was appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, who has often taken an adversarial position in his dealings with the news media.

“This is not about someone merely trying to ask questions,” said Lawrence Messina, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. “He was physically trying to push past the agents.”

Price’s office and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Heyman said he was held by security and later arrested on a charge of willful disruption of state government processes. He was booked into a local jail and released shortly after on $5,000 bail.

Heyman said he was wearing a press badge and shirt with his employer’s logo on it at the time of his apprehension. He said he was not warned by security guards or police that he was breaking the law.

Advocates for civil liberties and journalists’ rights denounced the arrest and said Heyman was punished for doing his constitutionally protected job.

“Mr. Heyman’s arrest is a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press,” the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said in a statement. It called for the criminal charges to be dropped.

Reporting by Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay