A veteran CBS4 cameraman has been charged with a felony after tussling with cops at a City Commission meeting last week in an argument over filming in a "restricted area."
Tony Jerez, the station's longtime helicopter photographer, brought the session to a halt when he clashed with an officer in a hallway next to the commissioner's dais. Now, he's looking at a felony count of battery on a law enforcement officer.
I was sitting just a few feet away when the fight broke out, and -- unless something happened that I didn't see, and that didn't make it into the police report -- a felony charge seems completely insane in this case.
Here's what I saw: A little before noon last Thursday, commissioners had just voted against a measure to change civil service rules when chairman Marc Sarnoff stopped midsentence and turned to his right, toward a passageway that leads from the audience chamber to the dais.
The area is screened from view by a wall, but loud voices could be heard. A split second later, a cameraman in a red t-shirt tumbled to the ground with a police officer on top of him. The officer dragged him through an open door behind the dais, and someone yelled, "Police! Police!"
Within 10 seconds, every other cop in the room -- probably around ten in all -- swarmed and blocked off the doorway. Sarnoff called a five minute break, and that was that. In other words: a minor scuffle, followed by a total police lock-down.
Turns out the man in red was Jerez, whose camera equipment was left scattered around the hallway. Police now say the fight broke out when a Sgt. Carvil told Jerez he couldn't film in the hallway. Jerez responded, "I'm just doing my job," and then allegedly "struck" Carvil.
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Carvil told him to move again, and Jerez refused, police say. That's when the fight broke out. Carvil writes in his report that Jerez pushed him again, "tensed his arms to evade arrest," and told another officer, "I've been working in City Hall for 20 years and the sergeant can't order me around."
Jerez was taken to county lockup and later released on $5,000 bond. An arraignment on his charges is scheduled for August 27.
If the judge has any sense, he'll drop the felony count for what, after all, added up to short shoving match over where filming is allowed in City Hall.
Lee Zimmerman, a spokesman for CBS4, declined to comment on the case.