A news crew in Albany, New York, was filming for a seemingly innocuous report about a historical site and just so happened to have a recently closed correctional facility in its background. What happened next had the reporter, videographer and others wondering what the big deal was.
WNYT-TV was on Mount McGregor filming near an empty correctional facility Thursday for a story about Grant Cottage, which is where President Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer 129 years ago.
The news channel shot footage of a re-enactment Wednesday and went back the next day for some more video. What happened when the crew was on the state property for this second time was all caught on camera with Mount McGregor prison in the background.
“No filming,” a corrections officer, who identified himself as Lt. Dorn and would not give his first name, told WNYT reporter Mark Mulholland.
“We’re doing a story on Grant’s Cottage,” Mulholland responded.
The officer then alleged that Mulholland and his crew were not up there to film for Grant’s anniversary but for “different purposes.” He told them that they would have to leave the mountain all together and not switch locations to Grant Cottage as Mulholland proposed instead.
“You’re telling us we can’t visit a historic site?” Mulholland said.
“No, you’re going to have to run that through Albany,” the officer responded, noting that they could visit but not film at Grant Cottage.
Mulholland and the film crew tried to take their equipment to the historic site instead but were met by another corrections officer who blocked their access.
“Ironically, once there, we noticed a film crew, presumably filming a movie, on the grounds of the closed prison,” Mulholland said.
The Albany Times Union reported that state officials wouldn’t provide details on the production taking place. It is unclear if the guards were protecting the other film crew.
When the reporter and his colleagues were leaving, they were met by state police, who demanded they turn over the footage they had taken.
“If I’m a member of the public and I’m taking pictures of Grant’s Cottage and there’s the facility right behind it, what would you do with it?” Mulholland asked.
He was told that if they knew the facility was in the background, those photos would be confiscated.
After contacting several officials and news station leadership, the crew left with their footage intact.
“In more than 20 years in the business, I’ve rarely encountered anything quite like this,” Mulholland said.
Watch the incident in the report:
In a statement made to WNYT after the confrontation, New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said that the crew “blatantly disregarded a state officer who informed them they were trespassing. Department regulations state that photographs taken while on Prison property require prior permission. This policy is for the safety of all staff, visitors and prisoners.”
WNYT though pointed out, there were no prisoners on site at the time because the facility was closed.
Carlos Miller, who runs the blog Photography Is Not a Crime, noted that there’s not “any law against recording a prison from a public road … .” The American Civil Liberties Union also reaffirms the right of people to take pictures or video on public property
The Post Star said its own view that the news station is owed an apology from the state for the incident.
“We could understand Dorn’s initial defense of state security, when the TV crew was filming along the road just below the prison, except for one thing: Mount McGregor prison is empty,” the newspaper wrote. “The state is closing it. All the prisoners are gone.
“We wonder why Dorn and other prison officers are still present and, we assume, getting paid. Without prisoners present, what are they doing?” the opinion continued.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not immediately respond to TheBlaze’s request for comment on some of these questions.
An article in the local Glen Falls Chronicle earlier this year, also noted that 76 employees were still staffed at the facility without inmates. The newspaper was told by a department spokesman that “it’s a long decommissioning process.”
This story has been updated to include more information.