Prosecutor mulling charges in editor, Miller flap

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

JUNEAU - A security guard said he placed a reporter under citizen's arrest at a campaign event for Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller after the journalist refused orders to leave and pushed someone into a locker.

Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger rushed up to and "kind of brushed up against" Miller, and refused repeated requests to leave after being told it was a private event, said Bill Fulton, the Dropzone Security agent involved in Sunday's scuffle at an Anchorage school.

Hopfinger told Anchorage television station KTUU that security pushed him as he tried to question Miller and he pushed back, a statement confirmed by Dispatch publisher Alice Rogoff, who witnessed the confrontation. Anchorage police said they weren't able to find anyone who claimed to have been pushed into a locker but would review witness statements regarding that.

Miller accused Hopfinger of using the town hall for a "publicity stunt." Miller also has claimed the online news site has focused its attention on negative stories about him.

Hopfinger wasn't immediately available Monday. His attorney, John McKay, called the incident "bizarre" and said Hopfinger committed no offense.

"Do I think Tony was right, editorially? Absolutely," Rogoff said.

Miller is locked in a race with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom he upset in the GOP primary and who is now running as a write-in candidate, and Democrat Scott McAdams.

Last week, Miller declared he would no longer answer questions about his past, following what he alleged was a leak to members of the media of his personnel file from his time as an attorney with the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Miller has had to respond to a number of disclosures that he or his family had received the types of government benefits - farm subsidies, Medicaid, unemployment - that he now rails against or has questioned as constitutionality of.

In acknowledging this, saying that for a time he struggled like many others have, he said he no longer gets benefits and that it has no relevance to the current race. Miller also said his campaign would continue to be as transparent and honest as possible.

But during a news conference in which he declared his personal life off-limits, he singled out the Dispatch, saying its "so-called journalistic objective is anything negative about Joe. ... It doesn't matter whether the sources are anonymous or not. They'll publish it on their blog."

The Dispatch was first to report that Miller, a fiscal conservative who has called for an end to the "welfare state," accepted farm subsidies in the 1990s. It's also among the news organizations suing for access to Miller's personnel file from the time he worked at the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

A former borough mayor claims Miller was nearly fired in 2008 for using government computers in a failed effort to overthrow the state GOP chairman. The Dispatch had reported allegations related to this before the mayor publicly spoke, citing unidentified sources.

Miller on Monday acknowledged to CNN he was disciplined over the matter but said he was never threatened with termination.

Rogoff said Hopfinger was "doggedly" pursuing an answer to Miller's employment question when he was shoved by a member of the security detail. Miller has called her a "max donor" to Murkowski, though Rogoff said she hasn't made a political contribution since buying the Dispatch. She became majority owner last year.

Hopfinger could possibly face a trespassing charge, if the municipal prosecutor pursues it, said police Lt. Dave Parker. Dropzone has asked for that, Fulton said.

Parker added that security could be charged with assault for handcuffing the editor. McKay said he doesn't believe Hopfinger will push for that, saying Hopfinger "doesn't want to be the issue here."

The prosecutor's office didn't immediately return a message Monday, a state holiday.

Parker said the Miller campaign rented the school at which the event was held and was entitled to decide who was allowed there.

"If the press is invited, they have every right to be there," he said. "But if they say to a particular member, 'We don't want you here,' then that person is persona non grata and can't stay."

Police talked to seven witnesses but not Miller, who had already left the area, Parker said.



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