UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 10, 2009

FEDERAL OFFICIALS COMMIT CRIME IN BROAD DAYLIGHT

Mark Segraves, WTOP, DC - A young man was robbed on Tuesday night inside a hospital while federal security guards watched. The victim was surrounded by seven men and women, and most of them had guns. The thieves refused to let the young man leave a public meeting he was attending and forced him to hand over valuable and irreplaceable property. Three days after the incident, no charges have been filed, nobody has been arrested and the property is still in the hands of the perpetrators. This occurred despite the fact that the victim and federal authorities know exactly who committed this heinous crime.

This is a true story. It happened to David Schultz, a 26-year-old graduate of the University of Arizona.

What makes this story truly unbelievable - and very scary - is the fact that the mastermind of this attack is a federal employee, Gloria Hairston, an internal communications specialist with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. She was aided by at least two other employees of the V.A. and four armed security guards.

I call the incident an "attack" because it was just that. An attack on the First Amendment, an attack on veterans and an attack on the public's right to know how their government is treating wounded vets.

Schultz is a reporter with Public Radio station WAMU. Last Tuesday night, he was covering a public event at the V.A. Hospital in Washington, D.C. While interviewing one of the veterans about the poor treatment he was receiving at the hands of the V.A., Ms. Hairston demanded that Schultz stop recording the interview and hand over his recording equipment.

"She said I wouldn't be allowed to leave," Schultz tells WTOP.

At first he refused. But after being surrounded by armed police officers who stood between him and the exit, he looked for a compromise.

"I became worried that I was going to get arrested," Schultz says.

Schultz convinced Hairston that all she really needed to confiscate was the memory card to his recorder, rather than all of his equipment. While this was going on, many of the veterans from the meeting had come out to watch the confrontation.

One of those veterans, an amputee in a wheelchair, approached Schultz and asked him for his phone number.

"I started to give it to him and then the woman (Hairston) became irate, she said you can't give him your phone number. You have to give me all of your equipment or I'm going to get ugly. She used the phrase 'get ugly,'" Schultz says,

Like any good reporter, Schultz stood his ground and called his boss for direction. Longtime newsman Jim Asendio is the news director for WAMU.

"I told him to give them the flash card and get out of there," Asendio says. "I didn't want this to get out of hand."

Schultz reluctantly handed over the memory card from his recorder. . .

"What I mostly feel bad about is Mr. Canady," Schultz says. "He was trying to tell his story, he has an amazing story and he was denied a chance to tell his story to the media because of these tactics."

Tommie Canady is a 56-year-old veteran with a terminal illness who says he's been getting less than adequate care at the V.A. Hospital. Despite the best efforts of Ms. Hairston, Schultz and WAMU have been successful in telling Canady's story.

Unfortunately, WAMU has been unsuccessful in retrieving the memory card which remains in the hands of the federal government.

"Our lawyers are working on that," Asendio says.

On Thursday afternoon, Asendio hand-delivered a letter from WAMU's general manager to the V.A Hospital demanding the return of the memory card. When he tried to deliver a copy of the letter to V.A. headquarters, he was turned away.

"They told me I need to call first to make an appointment to drop off a letter," Asendio says. . .

Calls and e-mails to Phil Budahn, director of media relations for the Department of Veterans Affairs went unreturned.

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