On January 6 in Provincial Court, a man was convicted of assault, along with a handful of other offences.
The assault victim was a reporter with The Telegram, and the weapon used was saliva.
The Telegram, CBC Here Now and NTV Evening Newshour ran the story. However, neither outlet divulged the reporters name, at her request (though her gender was revealed on both TV reports).
The assault happened in a split second, but the incident had a lasting impact on the reporter, as evidenced from the victim impact statement that was read in court.
I tracked the reporter down and she agreed to talk to me again, on condition that I not reveal her name. The setting was the public area, between the holding area and Courtroom Number Seven, where the accused must walk past the cameras to get to and from court.
These guys had just been arrested for a series of break-ins in the Whitbourne area, The reporter said. Theres an area there where media are permitted to take pictures or film them as they are coming through. Actually it was a little bit scary at first, because these guys had a number of friends or supporters there, and I was the only media person present at the time. And these guys were saying things to me, that I was not going to take pictures. I basically said, Look Im just here to do my job, please leave me alone. They were jumping in front of me, and one guy was putting his hands over the front of the camera. It was borderline assault really, because one guy was back on to me, pushing me back. Next thing you know these guys are being led out and their supporters are there, jumping in front of me, and Im trying to reach over them with my camera to get a picture. It got pretty scary there for a while. Thats when two sheriffs officers came out and partitioned the area off and booted these people outside, into the escalator area.
The reporter elected to wait for the defendants to come back after their court appearance, because, with all the interference, she still hadnt captured a satisfactory picture. The first of the three walked past without incident.
I was looking through my camera when the other two came back, and then I heard a spitting sound. Pandemonium broke loose, and sheriffs officers were pushing (the accused) toward the lockup. It was pretty chaotic. My face and my arm were all wet. I was wiping off the spit.
The reporter didnt see who spit at her, but she said the sheriffs officers did. And they said it was the two of them.
She said the assault didnt faze her at first.
But when I started wiping off the spit, I felt pretty shaken by it, I have to admit. I mean, Ive had some incidents down there with pushing and shoving and people say things to you all the time. Youve got to understand its a pretty volatile environment, and emotions run high there. Youre getting people, most with a history of criminal behaviour or psychological issues, in the worst possible circumstances. There is a lot of anger and sadness. People are in their worst state of minds, so you have to expect some negative reactions. But I think spitting crosses that line. And when it came to pressing charges, I thought long and hard about it. I took two or three days to talk it over with my family and my bosses and everybody was very supportive of whatever I thought was best.
After all, this is not the first time that the reporter has been placed in a conflict situation, while covering court cases.
People have put their hands over my camera and shoved it into my face. I was covering a case couple of years ago, when they had to hold this woman back who wanted to attack me. She was upset because I reported something she said on the stand. People have to realize that this is a public court Ive never taken any action before now because you have to look at the circumstances, and there was nothing too serious. But when this happened to me, I felt that I had to act. I had to do something, because it is just not right. If you ask a lot of correctional officers who work in the courthouse or penitentiary, they will tell you they would rather be punched in the face than spat at.
She did elect to lay charges, and on the day the case was scheduled to go to trial, was asked if she wanted to submit an impact statement before sentencing.
One of the crown prosecutors told me that one of the guys that spit on me was coming up in court. He said he was going to get at least an extra four months for the assault against me, and asked if Id like to file a victim impact statement.
I said, yeah I think I will, just to have my feelings on the record.
And he said, Well, it needs to be done by two oclock!
And this was about 11:30, so he led me down to Victims Services. It was actually kind of weird being on the other side of things. I met with this wonderful representative there, and she took me through the various steps. Ive heard victim impact statements read in court many times, but having to write one yourself was kind of weird It was sprung on me suddenly. It was very spontaneous. I just wrote what I felt.
Following is the full text of that Victim Impact Statement:
In the 3 1/2 years I have been covering court as a reporter with The Telegram, I never felt so violated and shaken as I did following this incident.
After several other incidents which have happened to me over the years here, being spit on had a cumulative effect on me. The feeling of saliva over my face is not one I will soon forget.
As a court reporter, I act as the eyes and ears for members of the public, who have a keen interest in our justice system and have a need to know what's going on inside the courtrooms. I would like to know I can safely do my job without the fear of being assaulted. In fact, any member of the public attending court should not have to worry about security.
It's taken me a while to get over this, and while I still have fears, I hope this will not hinder me from focusing on my job.
Here is the news story about the assault conviction that appeared January 7 in The Telegram:
Two years for break ins, spitting at reporter
St. Johns A man facing charges of assaulting a newspaper reporter as well as breaking into several businesses in December has pleaded guilty and will serve two years in jail as a result.
Jason Earl Marsh, 21, has been ordered to stay away from the reporter for three years.
The St. Johns man will also serve three years probation and has to submit a DNA sample as part of his sentence.
As well, Marsh pleaded guilty to an attempted break in at Fun and Fast in early December, two break ins at Whitbourne businesses and breaching several court orders.
Kenneth Leonard Wheeler, 20, and Chad Joseph Michael Murrins, 19, who are also accused in relation to the Whitbourne break-ins will appear in court to enter pleas at a later date.
Wheeler and Murrins are also charged with possessing property obtained by a crime as well as breaching court orders. They were found by RCMP officers near Hodgewater Line with items that were reportedly stolen from both businesses.
As the men were being led into court from the holding cells on Dec. 15, a group of their supporters tried to prevent The Telegrams court reporter from taking photos. It resulted in sheriffs officers banning them from the area.
Minutes later, when the men were being led out of the courtroom, Wheeler and Marsh spit at the reporter. Sheriffs officers quickly shuffled them back to the cells. Wheeler and Marsh are no strangers to court.
Wheeler has an eight-page criminal record, which includes break-ins, along with an armed robbery, which landed him a two-year jail term in 2007.
Marshs record is five pages long and includes convictions for break-ins and several breaches of court orders.