Two BBC journalists who filmed the scene where the Virginia shooting suspect crashed and shot himself say they were threatened by state police.
White House reporter Tara McKelvey and videojournalist Franz Strasser were among the first on the scene where the manhunt for the alleged WDBJ gunman Vester Flanagan came to an end, after they saw “sirens blaring” on I-66 West.
But on a day when the ability of journalists to do their jobs unhindered was a particularly heightened issue, officers with Virginia State Police reportedly told the reporters to delete their footage or risk having their camera and car taken away.
Strasser wrote on Twitter that he decided to delete the footage because “it was either not being able to work for the rest of the day, without camera or car, or delete c***** footage from far away”. He said he “chose the latter”.
I just left the site where the suspect reportedly shot himself. Cops took our camera and said they would also take our car then let us go.— Tara McKelvey (@Tara_Mckelvey) August 26, 2015
Just at the scene of the suspects shooting on I-66. Police told me to delete footage or lose camera.— Franz Strasser (@franzstrasser) August 26, 2015
Was too far away to get any good footage. One officer threatened to tow my car and take my camera.— Franz Strasser (@franzstrasser) August 26, 2015
Watched me delete my one file, and let me go. Other officer apologized and said we have to understand.— Franz Strasser (@franzstrasser) August 26, 2015
It was either not being able to work for the rest of the day, w/o camera and car, or delete crappy footage from far away. Chose the latter.— Franz Strasser (@franzstrasser) August 26, 2015
Reason for confiscating camera was that it was evidence. Threatened to tow the car because it was illegally parked.— Franz Strasser (@franzstrasser) August 26, 2015
But why they are then okay with deleting 'evidence' makes one question their reasoning.— Franz Strasser (@franzstrasser) August 26, 2015
Neither of these VA state police officers were the one asking us to delete footage. It was mainly one officer. pic.twitter.com/6L0JhTBWPm— Franz Strasser (@franzstrasser) August 26, 2015
Naming the policeman involved as Officer Clark, McKelvey said they were told the footage they had “could be evidence”. Strasser confirmed it was “mainly one officer” who addressed them, and said that the fact he ordered them to delete the “evidence” was enough to “make one question their reasoning”.
After Strasser’s initial tweet about the officer’s threat was widely shared on social media – and appeared in the BBC’s live coverage of the Virginia shootings online – a public relations officer for Virginia police has reached out to him on Twitter.
Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for Virginia State Police, wrote: “VSP is aware of this incident and we are looking into it, as such actions violate VSP policy.”
In pictures: Virginia shootings
In pictures: Virginia shootings
1/13 Virginia shootings
Flowers are seen at a memorial outside of the offices for WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia
2/13 Virginia shootings
The getaway car of suspected gunman Vester L. Flanagan sits on a flatbed tow truck before being towed away on highway I-66 in Fauquier County, Virginia
3/13 Virginia shootings
Sgt. Rick Garletts with the Virginia State Police speaks about using license plate recognition equipment to help identify suspect Vester Flanagan
4/13 Virginia shootings
Franklin County, Virginia sheriff, Bill Overton speaks to the press on in Moneta, Virginia
5/13 Virginia shootings
Authorities block Virginia State Route 122 at Bridgewater Plaza, in Moneta, Virginia
6/13 Virginia shootings
The crime scene at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Virginia
7/13 Virginia shootings
The entrance at Bridgewater Plaza on Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Virginia
8/13 Virginia shootings
Police work the crime scene at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, Virginia
9/13 Virginia shootings
WDBJ7 News Anchor Kimberly McBroom reacts to shooting
10/13 Virginia shootings
Vester Lee Flanagan, known professionally as Bryce Williams
11/13 Virginia shootings
Journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were killed after a gunman opened fire during a live broadcast in Virginia
12/13 Virginia shootings
Vester Flanagan's actions were broadcast live to television viewers
13/13 Virginia shootings
Reporter Alison Parker interviewing Vicki Gardner moments before the attack
Strasser later wrote on Twitter that he and McKelvey were reviewing what recordings the pair had been able to make of the exchange with police. A video captured on McKelvey’s iPhone was deemed “unusable”.
And the incident seems unlikely to be left there. Paul Danahar, the BBC’s bureau chief in the US, also responded to the incident on Twitter, asking the police spokesperson to “exchange contacts”.
The Independent has contacted the BBC for an official statement on what happened.