Two BBC reporters covering the manhunt of Vester Flanagan, the suspect in the shooting death of WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward, were reportedly ordered by Virginia police to delete their footage or surrender their cameras.
Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, were shot and killed during a live TV report for WDBJ7 on Wednesday morning while interviewing Vicki Gardner, the executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, at a shopping mall in Monetta, Virginia. Gardner was also shot and is in stable condition.
State police claimed that shooting suspect Vester Flanagan, a former reporter for WDBJ7, died hours after the shooting from a self-inflicted gun wound after he was chased by police.
Franz Strasser and Tara McKelvey, reporters covering the manhunt for BBC, claimed they were on the scene when Flanagan’s car veered off the road and crashed.
Following the crash, state police said that they found Flanagan in his car “suffering from a gunshot wound.” He was then “transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries,” where he died.
While reporting from the scene of the crash, Strasser posted on his Twitter account that he was approached by Virginia state police and ordered to delete his footage of the crash or else he would have his camera confiscated.
Strasser added that while he was “too far away to get any good footage,” one officer threatened to take his camera and tow his car.
While Strasser initially Tweeted that McKelvey filmed the encounter with her iPhone, he then came back and said that the footage was “unstable.”
Corinne Geller, the statewide public relations manager for the Virginia State Police, responded to Strasser’s Tweet and said that they have acknowledged that the officer’s actions “violate VSP policy” and that they are “looking into the incident.”
In a letter to the Virginia State Police, Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association, wrote that the forcible deletion of evidence was unlawful and requested an investigation into the incident.
“The NPPA is extremely troubled by what appears to be an attempt to prevent them from covering the story or documenting police activity,” Osterreicher wrote. “For us this is the worst example of a prior restraint of free speech and of the press. While I understand tensions were high this misguided and illegal action was an abridgment of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.”