Suburban Chicago Withdraws Charges Against Journalist for Excessive Inquiries

by Andrew Wright
Philippines Earthquake Tsunami Warning

Municipal authorities in a suburb of Chicago rescinded several citations on Monday against a reporter from the local press, citing his repeated attempts to contact city officials for comments regarding hazardous autumn flooding.

This decision came just a few days after Calumet City sent multiple notices to Hank Sanders, a journalist with the Daily Southtown, a local paper that falls under the Chicago Tribune’s umbrella, as reported by the Tribune on Monday. Sanders is tasked with reporting on the suburb’s affairs.

The city, with a population of 35,000 and situated 24 miles south of Chicago, had accused Sanders of “interference/obstruction with city employees.”

On October 19, the Southtown’s online publication, followed by a print version on October 20, featured an article by Sanders. He highlighted that experts had previously warned Calumet City leaders about their substandard stormwater systems prior to the unprecedented September rainfall that caused extensive flooding.

The subsequent day after the online publication, Sanders’s continued coverage on the matter led to grievances from city officials, including Mayor Thaddeus Jones, who expressed discontent over Sanders’s persistent calls to city employees requesting statements.

Patrick K. Walsh, the attorney for Calumet City, addressed a letter to an attorney of the Tribune on Monday, officially retracting the citations.

Mitch Pugh, the Tribune’s Executive Editor, expressed relief that Calumet City officials recognized their mistake and withdrew the charges, stating, “We are pleased that reasonable judgment has prevailed.” He continued, “It is gratifying to know that Hank will resume his journalistic duties for the Daily Southtown readers, and we remain committed to monitoring the treatment of our reporters by city officials, advocating for their journalistic freedom within Calumet City and beyond.”

Walsh acknowledged in his letter that city staff are entitled to decline communication with Sanders. However, he pointed out that it is likely Sanders and the Tribune would argue he was not engaging in harassment.

Walsh’s letter advises Sanders to route future questions through the designated spokesperson for the suburb and ends on a cordial note, commending Sanders as a commendable young journalist and offering best wishes for his career.

As of Monday, Sanders had resumed his reporting activities.

These revoked citations in Calumet City are part of a series of recent confrontations across the nation that put First Amendment issues in the spotlight. This includes the arrest last week of an Alabama newspaper publisher and a reporter following their coverage of a grand jury probe into a local school district, and an incident in August where police searched the premises of a Kansas newspaper and the home of its publisher following a conflict with a restaurant owner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Calumet City reporter charges

What were the charges against Hank Sanders, the reporter from the Daily Southtown?

Hank Sanders was cited for “interference/obstruction with city employees” by the Calumet City authorities due to his persistent efforts to contact city officials for comments on the hazardous flooding in autumn.

Why did Calumet City officials drop the citations against the reporter?

The citations against Hank Sanders were dropped after it was recognized by Calumet City officials that the charges were a mistake. This recognition came after the Chicago Tribune, affiliated with the Daily Southtown where Sanders is employed, reported on the situation.

What was the subject of Hank Sanders’s reporting that led to the citations?

Hank Sanders reported on the poor condition of Calumet City’s stormwater facilities, which consultants had warned about before the historic rains in September caused significant flooding.

How did Tribune Executive Editor Mitch Pugh react to the withdrawal of charges?

Mitch Pugh expressed satisfaction that the Calumet City officials realized their error and dismissed the charges against Hank Sanders, affirming the newspaper’s commitment to supporting journalists’ rights to report freely.

What does the incident involving Hank Sanders signify for journalist rights?

The incident with Hank Sanders highlights ongoing First Amendment challenges faced by journalists in the US, underlining the importance of press freedom and the right to seek information from government officials.

More about Calumet City reporter charges

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Bobby_T November 7, 2023 - 8:15 am

why is it always chicago, politics there seems like a mess, who else agrees

LindaQRS November 7, 2023 - 8:28 am

This story is wild, Sanders is just doing his job, he shoudn’t get tickets for that!

Mike_J November 7, 2023 - 8:47 am

I read Sanders’s article, good stuff, its important that the press holds city officials to account, right?

Kathy1976 November 8, 2023 - 12:38 am

Just heard about Hank Sanders…good on him for not backing down, the truth always comes out in the end!

jenny smith November 8, 2023 - 12:59 am

cant believe this is happening in 2023! officials need to respect the press and their job


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