It appears Kenosha (Wis.) County Sheriff David Beth knew what he was doing when he ordered two deputies, including his girlfriend, to escort a phalanx of reporters and photographers out of the Rittenhouse Square courthouse during the closing arguments of the high-profile criminal trial of former University of Wisconsin-Stout basketball player Travis Reinking.
After the prosecutor dismissed Kenosha County assistant prosecutor Rebekah Sheatley, in an attempt to dissuade a reporter from asking her a follow-up question, two sheriff’s deputies escorted the person on the sheriff’s payroll who had a microphone to the door of the courthouse and he and two members of the media were asked to leave.
Upon hearing the news, the officers (Beth and his girlfriend Alicia Ayala) returned to the courthouse, saw what the scrum was all about and quickly ordered the remaining journalists to leave.
“He gave me his number,” read an email from one of the reporters to Beth’s office, according to a press release the department later issued. “It was not a game of jokes or anything. I was highly offended and deeply hurt and outraged to see two officers from the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department force my way out of Rittenhouse Square courthouse to make it clear that I, and all other journalists who came seeking a copy of the final prosecutor’s statement, were totally unwelcome. It was wrong of them. We had been given a jury privilege here.”
When John Tanner, Kenosha County state’s attorney, was asked why a reporter should bother with a journalist, he said there was a “lot of junk” in the room that “conjures up the idea that a state representative from Madison, not being very bright, wants to incite some sort of reaction to things.”
Media outlets such as TheKenoshaPlain.com and WITI, as well as The Associated Press, sent complaints about the behavior of the sheriff’s department to Beth and the city of Kenosha on Feb. 1.
The sheriff said he wants his force to be “respected for it’s immense work, what they do,” according to the release. “It’s important to me and they know it.”
“Frankly the media has an agenda, and are not based on any news business principles,” the sheriff added. “We want to do what we need to do to protect their professional careers. If the sheriff department becomes a disreputable topic of discussion we’re not going to get results for the city of Kenosha or the citizens of Kenosha. The citizens of this county are watching you. You must treat it the way you would treat a family member.”
Beth said he was “embarrassed” that a member of his department allowed himself to be associated with what he viewed as “a one-sided event.”
“If they don’t behave, we’re not going to tolerate it,” Beth said of the media. “They had an opinion. They went to the courthouse to hear the prosecutor’s closing statement to this case. Nobody was assaulted. No individuals were detained or arrested. They were thanked, escorted outside of the courthouse, and they were given their opinions. A reporter stated she was in a media scrum. That’s where the jibber jabber of the day continued.”
While Sheatley, the prosecutor, seemed stunned by the officers’ treatment of her, with Beth’s best friend at her side, the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, said “the actions of Kenosha County Sheriff’s Officers are appropriate,” which the sheriff disputes.