The editor of the Alaska Dispatch website was arrested by U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller's private security guards Sunday as the editor attempted to interview Miller at the end of a public event in an Anchorage school.
Tony Hopfinger was handcuffed by the guards and detained in a hallway at Central Middle School until Anchorage police came and told the guards to release Hopfinger.
Hopfinger has not been charged but the owner of the Drop Zone, the private security firm that's been providing Miller's security, accused Hopfinger of trespassing at the public event, a town hall sponsored by the Miller campaign. The owner, William Fulton, also said Hopfinger assaulted a man by shoving him.
Anchorage Police who responded to the call said they would leave it to the District Attorney's office to decide whether to prosecute. They spent more than an hour taking statements, then left.
Hopfinger, who was holding a small video camera, said he was attempting to draw out a statement from Miller on why he was disciplined by the Fairbanks North Star Borough when Miller worked there as a part-time attorney. After Miller walked away, Hopfinger said, he was surrounded by Miller supporters and security guards and felt threatened, so he pushed one of them away.
Fulton said the man shoved by Hopfinger was not hurt.
Hopfinger said that after he shoved the man away, the guards grabbed him, cuffed his hands behind his back with steel handcuffs and sat him in a chair in the school hallway, Hopfinger said.
One of the guards grabbed Hopfinger's video camera. Later, Hopfinger said that when he got the camera back, the segment covering the span of the arrest was missing. An Anchorage police officer offered to take the camera into custody and have it examined in the crime lab to investigate whether evidence had been destroyed, but Hopfinger declined. He said he needed the camera and the remaining video for his work.
The guard who grabbed the camera said Hopfinger had dropped it in the scuffle and denied erasing anything. The guard wouldn't give his name.
While Hopfinger was still in handcuffs, the guards attempted to prevent other reporters from talking to him and threatened them too with arrest for trespass. A Daily News reporter interviewed Hopfinger anyway. No other reporters were arrested, though a few shoving matches and chest bumps ensued as the guards attempted to cordon off Hopfinger and block photographs and videos from being taken of the bizarre school scene.
The Miller campaign released a written one-paragraph statement from Fuller, then followed with a statement titled, "Liberal Blogger 'Loses It' at Town Hall Meeting." In that statement, Miller accused Hopfinger of assaulting someone and of taking advantage of the meeting to "create a publicity stunt."
He said his personal security detail had to take action to detain "the irrational blogger."
Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto declined to comment or to make Miller, himself a witness, available for news interviews.
The 3 p.m. town hall was billed by the Miller campaign as a chance for voters to "hear Joe Miller speak for himself." It was hardly a private gathering. In a Facebook message, the campaign urged Miller supporters to bring their "friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances, neighbors." And continuing what has become its anti-media theme, the campaign added, "Don't let the media skew your views."
In the gym rented from the Anchorage School District, Miller spent about 45 minutes addressing the crowd of several hundred and answering -- or deflecting -- questions.
The downtown Anchorage crowd wasn't entirely supportive. Though one man who later donned a hard hat praised Miller's position on opening up resource development and others whistled and cheered his stand on reducing the national debt and some smaller number his anti-union position, he also faced hostile questioners.
One likened him to a "welfare queen -- you had a lot of children that you couldn't afford, and we had to pay for it," referring to Miller's reliance on medical care subsidies and other federal benefits. Miller has said that kind of federal largesse is unconstitutional, and he responded by first asking his parents to stand to the applause of his partisans, then said he isn't opposed to relief payments -- only they should come from the states, not the federal government.
Another criticized Miller's announcement last week that he would no longer answer questions about his character or his personal history. While his opponents have previous records in elective office, he does not, the woman said. "In this instance, you have no record, so it's meaningful and it's reasonable that we would want to examine your professional background and your military ..."
Miller interrupted her and said he knew she was a supporter of his opponent, write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski. He said he had a public record as a state and federal judge in Fairbanks and Tok, but added he wanted to talk about the national debt, not the farm subsidy he received in Kansas.
Miller said he would talk to people after the open question period, but he quickly left the room.
Miller's vow to not answer questions about his own behavior includes his refusal to respond to allegations that he was disciplined for using government computers for partisan political activity when he was a part-time borough attorney there. The Alaska Dispatch, the Fairbanks News-Miner and the Anchorage Daily News are suing the borough in an attempt to get Miller's full personnel file.
Hopfinger said he followed Miller out of the gym with his video camera, peppering him with questions about the borough job.
As they were walking down a hall, Miller reversed directions and Hopfinger found himself surrounded by Miller supporters and the security detail, all of them wearing radio earphones.
Fulton said that because the school district rented the space to the campaign, it had the right to declare anyone in trespass. He said Hopfinger was "stalking" Miller and posed a security threat.
Hopfinger said that when he was told he was in trespass, he wasn't given any time to leave. Everything happened in seconds, he said.
By RICHARD MAUER
Alaska Dispatch Publishing