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Miller guard says editor refused to leave private event

Craig Medred

closeup-cuffs-10-17A security guard who pushed Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger into a wall and handcuffed him after a town hall meeting for Senate candidate Joe Miller on Sunday afternoon in Anchorage said he did so because Hopfinger refused to leave a private event.

William Fulton from Dropzone Security Services said Hopfinger should have known from the "Joe Miller for Senate" signs outside Central Junior High School that the town hall meeting -- to which Miller invited citizens on the internet sites Facebook and Twitter -- was a private event.

"They leased it for a private event," said Fulton. "It wasn't a public place." That, he said, gave him the legal authority to tell Hopfinger to leave, then grab him and handcuff him when he didn't do as told.

Hopfinger said he had no idea who Fulton was. The security guard was in a black suit, not a uniform, Hopfinger said, and refused to identify himself.

"He throws me up against the wall," Hopfinger said. "He handcuffs me," and even then Fulton refused to identify himself.

Fulton, who said he has done security for Miller before, has a different version of events. Problems started, he said, because Hopfinger was "getting really pushy with Joe. Joe was trying to get away from him."

Hopfinger agrees with that. He said he was trying to get Miller to answer questions about whether he'd been in danger of being fired from his job as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough when he quit in 2009. Hopfinger said he kept after the candidate because Miller never told him to get lost, but instead just kept moving away.

A veteran reporter, Hopfinger said he has been in media scrums before, and this seemed like another of those. There was a mob of people. Some were in dark suits like Fulton and others in flannel, he said. Some, Hopfinger said, were telling him to quit pestering Joe with questions, but as a reporter, he had questions he thought needed to be asked.

Fulton said he was watching Hopfinger because the man had "something in his hand."

"It could have been a camera," the guard said. "It could have been a recording device. It could have been an iPhone." When asked, though, Fulton conceded the something in Hopfinger's hand obviously wasn't a weapon.

Hopfinger said he had in his hand a small video camera, called a "Flip." He was trying, he said, to get an on-camera interview with Miller. In the process of following the candidate, Hopfinger added, he was getting pushed into by people who were crowding the hallway.

It was at that point, Fulton said, that Hopfinger "shoulder checked a guy into a locker."

Fulton did not know the name of who was "shoulder checked." It wasn't one of our guys," he said. "It could have been anyone. (But) I saw that shoulder check as being violent."

A pot-bellied and overweight writer, Hopfinger wasn't sure what a "shoulder check" is when asked about it. He said the only person he remembers touching is Fulton. Hopfinger said he put his hand on Fulton's chest to try to push the former soldier back.

"I was being pushed into a lot of people," Hopfinger said. "I used my hand. It all happened in seconds. He said it was a private event. He grabbed me and said, ‘You're under arrest'."

Fulton, according to Hopfinger, next said he was calling the Anchorage Police. Hopfinger told Fulton that would be a good idea. The reporter was held in handcuffs, though others tried to intervene, until the police arrived. Police told Fulton to release the writer. Fulton did not know how long Hopfinger was in cuffs. Hopfinger said it seemed like a long time. He said Fulton left him in the "custody" of people who identified themselves only as "Miller volunteers."

Fulton said that as a security guard he is familiar with state law, and he believes he has the legal authority to police "private events" no matter where might take place. He refused to answer how exactly a member of the public attending Miller's town hall meeting at a public school was supposed to know it was a private event, but said the Joe Miller sign outside was the giveaway.

The meeting was open to the public. There were no names taken at the door. Reporters were not asked to apply for credentials.

"This is a simple trespassing issue," Fulton insisted, but no one else trespassing in the hallway with Hopfinger was detained. Fulton said Hopfinger was special because he showed those signs of "violence." Friends of Hopfinger said the reporter has been known to lose his temper and yell at people on occasion, but he's a bit florid, visibly out of shape, and no apparent threat in scuffle. Some of his friends joke that his wife could probably take him in a fight.

Fulton agreed with Hopfinger that there were a lot of people in the hallway. Some of them might have been other reporters, he said.

"I think we told them (all) to leave," Fulton said. "It's not a public (place) if it's leased. It was a private event ... because it's a private event, and we've taken over the school."

Fulton said he felt no obligation to explain to Hopfinger how a reporter doing his job -- asking questions of a political candidate -- could be trespassing at a public school during a public event.

"I don't educate the public," he said.

Fulton said he told Hopfinger to leave. Hopfinger didn't leave. So he banged him into a wall and cuffed him. End of story.

Hopfinger seemed still baffled by the events Sunday night. "This is a public school," he said. "This is a public event," adding that Miller clearly knew whom he was talking to because the men had earlier exchanged pleasantries in the men's restroom.

Hopfinger said he didn't think that was the time or place to ask Miller difficult questions about what happened in Fairbanks. He figured, he said, it would be better to wait until after Miller was done with his town hall meeting and ask the questions then.

Despite Fulton telling Alaska Dispatch and various other media outlets that he knew he was dealing with a reporter, the Joe Miller campaign promptly put out a press release saying, "It is also important to note that the security personnel did not know that the individual they detained was a blogger who reporting on the campaign [sic]."

The press release was headlined "Liberal Blogger Loses it at Town Hall Meeting," although Miller knows well that Dispatch, which is involved in a lawsuit to obtain Miller's Fairbanks personnel records, is not a "blog" but an established online news magazine.

Video footage from Central Middle School cameras may have captured the incident, and Alaska Dispatch will be asking the Anchorage School District to release it.

It is not known at this time whether Hopfinger will be filing charges against the men who detained him.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com.