The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office says a television news crew abused their media privileges while covering the deadly McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest on the California-Oregon border.
The blaze, which grew rapidly over hilly and difficult terrain, consumed 56,668 acres and was 10% contained on Friday, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman Aaron Johnson. At least four people died in the blaze, but there is no official tally of how many structures were damaged or destroyed.
The sheriff’s office declined to officially name the news station cited in its complaint and told SF Gate that the investigation was ongoing. However, the incident has been linked to a television crew report for ABC News.
While reporting, the ABC News crew was filming on private property destroyed by the fire that had yet to be cleared by police in ‘an unlawful abuse of press privileges,’ the bureau said Tuesday. of the sheriff.
The show showed ABC News chief national correspondent Matt Gutman with a resident of Siskiyou, who showed the crew what she claimed was her uncle’s property.
Gutman asks the resident if she has been in contact with her uncle.
“No, he’s dead. He had to die. He lived right there,” she said, pointing to the charred remains of the house.
The sheriff’s office said the remains of a person were later found on the property, which the “media disturbed”. He also claims ABC News reported on the discovery of the remains before authorities were able to properly process the scene and notify the family.
“This is unacceptable and disrespectful to fire victims and their families and will NOT be tolerated,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
An ABC spokesperson said in a statement obtained by The Times that the news crew had permission to be on the property.
“Officials have given ABC News permission to cross the line of fire. A local gave us permission to be on the property where the house had burned down. … As soon as locals discovered the body, our team notified law enforcement,” the spokesperson said.
California law gives the media unrestricted access to “scenes of disaster, riot, or civil unrest,” according to California Penal Code 409.5(d). But the media are excluded from access to places that interfere with investigations.
The sheriff’s office says that since the cause of the fire is still under investigation, this property has been deemed a crime scene. Areas affected by the fire will be treated as crime scenes to “preserve the area for investigators and protect any potential evidence,” the statement said.
“As we actively verify the structures and properties of deceased persons and conduct various law enforcement investigations, it is imperative that the media adhere to necessary restrictions on private property and remain on public property that has been licensed for the purpose. ‘media access,’ the sheriff’s office said.