DPS Asks News Media to Back Off in Story About Medic Killed by Chopper

By Ray Stern

News media interest in Monday's death of an Arizona Department of Public Safety medic shouldn't surprise anyone.

Bruce Harrolle (pictured) was the first DPS officer to die in the line of duty since 2000, and the macabre way he was killed -- struck by the helicopter's spinning rotor blades -- is unusual enough to rate more media activity than, say, a more mundane car crash.

The DPS wants the media to show restraint on this one, though, and it's reportedly not just because it wants to protect the family of one of their own. DPS spokesman Harold Sanders put out a press release this afternoon stating that the agency has received "numerous complaints" about reporters trying to get interviews with people who knew Harrolle:

The Arizona Department of Public Safety has received numerous complaints from the family, friends, neighbors and co-workers of DPS Officer Bruce Harrolle, that they are being "hounded" by various media representatives for interviews.

This is a very challenging time for the family and all those personally connected to Officer Harrolle. Therefore, to insure their respect and their right to privacy, we are requesting that all media organizations and representatives only contact DPS through the [email protected] E-mail address for any requests for interviews reference the unfortunate and untimely death of Officer Harrolle. Please no phone calls to the home, office or cellular numbers and no non-approved visits to the home or the immediate area.

If the family, friends and co-workers desire to conduct any interviews, we will gladly facilitate that process.

Thank you for your consideration.

Harold A. Sanders, Spokesman Arizona Department of Public Safety

This kind of request (or is it a demand?) by a law enforcement agency always makes me queasy because of the implied threat. If a reporter goes to the "immediate area" of the family's home, does he or she get put on a blacklist of some sort? Worse, will a reporter worried about the risk of offending DPS get scooped by a reporter who ignores the request? The idea of reporters needing government approval to knock on someone's door and ask a couple of questions is a bit chilling.

Now, it may be tough to see what great scoop could be had, or even what public good it would do to interview grieving friends and family. Yet an Arizona Republic article that contains quotes from a friend of Harrolle brings the reader a bit closer to the fallen officer, and the friend -- reached by phone in Ohio -- doesn't seem particularly bothered by the call.

True, the same article states that "Harrolle's wife, Angela, declined to comment Tuesday when contacted at her Mesa home." Few would blame her for not commenting, and she has every right to complain if such contacts by reporters kept coming all day long.

But as long as media representatives remain professional, there should be no harm in letting them do their job.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern