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New York detective reprimanded for kicking on-duty reporter out of amusement park for speaking with a child

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Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

A New York detective will undergo corrective action to include First Amendment training after improperly ordering a reporter to leave an amusement park for speaking to a child, Rockland/Westchester Journal News reported on January 26, 2023.

"This department is committed to high standards of professionalism, and misconduct of its officers will not be condoned," Lt. Jeffrey Weiss wrote of the incident, as reported by RWJN.

Ballesteros committed a "violation of department policy" and acted "without proper justification" when he commanded the reporter to leave the park, RWJN also reported. Their report was based on a letter that followed an internal investigation conducted by the Westchester County Department of Public Safety.

What happened at the amusement park?

The incident in question took place in September 2022, when longtime reporter David McKay Wilson, who authors a column called Tax Watch, was on assignment at Rye Playland on the Long Island Sound in Rye, New York, RWJN reported.

While at the park, he "struck up a conversation with the kids waiting alongside him" in a line for the Dragon Coaster, Reason reported Friday.

A father of one of the kids, apparently outraged at the idea of an adult speaking with his minor daughter, reported Wilson to a guard. The guard, in turn, called the police, Reason also reported.

"[Detective Henry Ballesteros] told me to wait there while he talked to me and to the parent," Wilson told RWJN, adding that he was "not free to walk away."

It is not clear if WCDPS agrees that Ballesteros improperly detained Wilson.

What did the internal investigation find?

The paper for which Wilson was reporting requested a review of the officer's conduct, Reason reported. Westchester County Department of Public Safety conducted the investigation.

Among its conclusions were that Detective Henry Ballesteros acted "without proper justification" and "in violation of department policy" when he improperly kicked Wilson out of the embattled, privately-operated park.

The letter was signed by Lt. Jeffrey Weiss, commanding officer of the department's Special Investigations Unit.

What do child advocates and journalists have to say?

"This is an important win and a reminder that all of us need to stand up for our right to do the work our audience expects from us," The Journal News/lohud's executive editor Carrie Yale told RWJN.

"Normal human interaction. . .should be condoned—even encouraged. And it will sometimes involve an adult talking to a child to which he is not related," Free-Range Kids movement founder and Let Grow president Lenore Skenazy wrote in Reason's coverage.

"There is something deeply misguided about a society that automatically sees this sort of thing as both creepy and criminal," she added.

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