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Alaska Dispatch editor detained at Miller event [updated]

Alaska Dispatch

closeup-cuffs-10-17Alaska Dispatch founder and editor Tony Hopfinger was grabbed and handcuffed by a private security detail working for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller on Sunday while trying to ask the Fairbanks Republican questions following a town hall meeting at Central Middle School in Anchorage on Sunday.

Hopfinger was reportedly pressing Miller on whether the candidate had ever been reprimanded for politicking while working at the Fairbanks North Star Borough in 2008. Alaska Dispatch and other media have sued for the release of records related Miller's time at the borough. Various accounts of what happened next generally agree on this course of events:

  • Two or three bodyguards told Hopfinger to stop asking questions and to leave the building.
  • Hopfinger continued to ask questions while apparently videotaping the candidate.
  • Bodyguards told him that if he persisted they would arrest him for trespassing, but refused to identify themselves to Hopfinger.
  • Hopfinger asked why he was trespassing, as the event was at a public school. Seconds later, he was then put in arm-bar and later handcuffed and sequestered at one end of a hallway for at least 30 minutes. He was told, "You're under arrest."
  • Anchorage Police arrived on the scene shortly after.

Police were still trying to sort things out as this was written.

Miller had been at the school for a town hall meeting. State Sen. Fred Dyson, a Republican from Eagle River, appeared there to praise Miller, as did at least one other speaker. Miller than spent about forty-five minutes fielding questions from an audience that had been invited by Miller supporters. Hopfinger, who had learned at the last minute of Miller's planned appearance at the public school, ducked into a hallway after the meeting to pose his own questions to Miller.

Miller last week at the Dena'ina Center announced after an on-camera interview with Greta van Susteren of Fox News that he wasn't going to talk to the Alaska media anymore. The Alaska media had been asking Miller difficult questions about his personal life, including the possibility that he quit his job as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough under threat that he was about to be fired. Jim Whitaker, former borough mayor, has said that was the case. Spokespeople for Miller have denied it.

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Questions have also arisen about Miller's use of borough computers to try to oust Alaska Republican party chairman Randy Ruederich in the past. Whitaker said there was an investigation, and Miller, a part-time borough attorney, was suspended from his job. Whitaker has also said the borough wanted to fire the conservative attorney, but they could not because he was so deeply involved in borough efforts to change the way the trans-Alaska oil pipeline is assessed.

With Miller's help, the borough managed to convince a judge that the pipeline was worth twice the value estimated by the state. Miller beat incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary earlier this year by running a strong campaign as an anti-tax, anti-government, anti-establishment candidate. A former state and federal magistrate, Miller has since the primary become increasingly testy about accusations his positions sometimes look hypocritical. And he has tried to make his work history at the Fairbanks borough disappear.

The Dispatch, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner and the Anchorage Daily News are all in court at the moment trying to gain access to his Fairbanks personnel records to determine how his previous job ended.

[Update, 10/18, 7:08 p.m. AKDT]: Anchorage Police freed Alaska Dispatcher editor Tony Hopfinger from Senate candidate Joe Mlller's body guards at Central Middle School early Sunday evening. Sergeant Mark Rein of the Anchorage Police Department said Hopfinger is not in custody or under arrest.

Hopfinger had been trying to ask Miller questions when two or three guards told him to leave or risk being charged with trespassing.

When Hopfinger continued to try to ask questions, one of the guards put the reporter in an arm-bar and then handcuffed him.

Hopfinger was released after police arrived.

The reporter was on public property where a public event was being held at the time of the incident.

Miller has been adamant about his desire to avoid talking to the Alaska media, but no one in the working press in Alaska has ever before seen a candidate go to this length to avoid questions.

This is a developing story to which we will be adding more information as it becomes available. Keep checking back for updates.