When they kick you out of the room, you know you’re asking the right questions.
On Thursday, RANGE was the first news outlet in Spokane to break the news that Sheriff Knezovich had been verbally threatening to sweep Camp Hope, and we were the first to publish a physical letter he sent to the state secretary of transportation to that effect. We ran the story down hard from the moment we heard a conflict might be coming, and then found another gear when we got our hands on the actual letter.
In just about 6 hours, Carl Segerstrom and I called everyone we could think to call, from the state and city agencies involved in funding the drawdown of Camp Hope, to the non-profits who’ve been doing work on the ground. We called the Spokane Police: Camp Hope is within city limits, had they invited the Sheriff? We called the Attorney General’s office to try to figure out if a county sheriff had the authority to sweep a camp the city police said they did not. We even called the FBI, because Knezovich had mentioned getting them involved to investigate allegations of “possible public corruption” he made, but did not enumerate.
We obviously called the Sheriff’s office too, leaving a message for public information officer Corporal Mark Gregory. We didn’t hear back from Gregory before deadline (we still haven’t), though we’re pretty sure he heard our messages. A colleague at a different publication told me Gregory had been asking, “What’s RANGE Media?”
We broke that story and we wrote what I believe to be the deepest account to date. We’re proud of it, but we still hadn’t gotten to hear from the Sheriff or his spokespeople.
So today at noon, Carl went to the press conference Sheriff Knezovich had called hoping to simply understand why he had decided to jump into the middle of the Camp Hope saga after months of seemingly having nothing at all to do with it.
Maybe all of the reporters in Spokane had missed something. Maybe Sheriff Knezovich had been in the room discussing the fate of Camp Hope all along.
We never got to find out. Before he was through the door, Carl was asked to leave. The person who asked? Corporal Gregory.
Gregory said he wouldn’t let Carl in because he didn't know who we are. We know that’s not true. Carl told him we had tried to get in touch multiple times. Next Gregory said there was no room. As you can see from this photo, there was plenty of room for a reporter and his notebook.
Gregory then said he had security concerns, which was interesting. Carl had to pass through a metal detector to get to the conference room. We hope for the safety of county staff that the metal detector is actually working.
It's Carl's feeling, our feeling, and the feeling of various colleagues from other institutions that this was a politically motivated exclusion. RANGE asks tough questions. Powerful people don't like to have their power questioned. If that seems like a stretch of reasoning, Sheriff Knezovich took issue with a series of questions asked by KXLY’s Esther Bower, saying the “exchange” she had with him was tougher than questions asked of other officials.
Those questions? Among them, “Sir, when was the last time you went into the camp and talked to the people?”
How unfair of her.
If we would have been allowed in the room and allowed to ask questions, here are a couple of the questions we would have tried to ask:
"It appears from our reporting that no one asked for the Sheriff's assistance in this matter. Not the service providers, not the Spokane Police Department and not even the Mayor's office. Is that true, or were you invited to the table by someone we didn’t talk to?
“Camp Hope has been open for nearly nine months. Why do this now and not before the heat waves and the months of controversy?”
“What good do you think you can accomplish by jumping in now, conducting the sweep months before adequate supports are built and against the wishes of other agencies and organizations who have been working on this all along?”
“You only have three months before you leave office. Are you concerned that action could cause unintended consequences your successor as Sheriff and the rest of Spokane will have to clean up?”
“Are you still planning to move to Wyoming? Will you even be here to see the aftermath of your actions?”
We weren't allowed to ask those questions, though. We hope one of our other colleagues in the media have the courage to ask them. It's vitally important to hold power to account, especially when it wants to act with such impunity.
We’ll take our exclusion as a point of pride, though. And we’ll keep looking for those answers, whether or not it’s Sheriff Knezovich or Corporal Gregory offering them to us.