Gardnerville man wants law changed over photographs
A Gardnerville man who said his photograph should not have been published in a Feb. 5 Record-Courier story about an altercation with a middle school basketball coach is pushing for legislation to prohibit newspapers from publishing photos of first-time offenders.
Dan Paterson said he is willing to relive the incident if his proposed bill could spare one person from the humiliation he said he went through.
“I was so disappointed,” said Paterson, who has asked Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, to draft a bill proposing the photo restrictions. “This was my first offense – a misdemeanor – and, to me, to use my picture in the paper for that was unfair. I made a three-second mistake, yes – the first one in 51 years – but it was an isolated incident.”
Paterson, who admitted grabbing Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School girls’ basketball coach, Justin Pruett, by the collar during a Oct. 26 conversation following a loss at Eagle Valley Middle School in Carson City, said coverage by The Record-Courier, including the use of his photo that he said “made him look like a criminal,” was what he objected to the most.
“It was unfair,” said Paterson, a retired Douglas High School teacher. “This was a first offense, and I don’t remember seeing other first offenders’ pictures in the paper. It was blown way out of proportion.”
n Misdemeanor charge. Paterson pleaded guilty Feb. 4 in Carson City to a misdemeanor battery charge, received a suspended 90-day jail sentence on the condition that there be no further misconduct and agreed to undergo an anger management evaluation.
He has been banned by the Douglas County School District from attending sports events.
Paterson contacted Hettrick in February to see what could be done in the Nevada Legislature to prevent newspapers from publishing photographs of first offenders.
“If I can save just one person from suffering the humiliation I have suffered, it will be worth it,” Paterson said.
Hettrick said Paterson’s passion about the issue overrode any doubts he had about the constitutionality of the proposal.
“This was by his request – it’s my job to represent my constituents, and Mr. Paterson called me very early on and was very passionate,” Hettrick said Tuesday. “His concern was, ‘What value is a man’s rights?’ and (as a private citizen) he has the right to address the issue as long as he can do it without violating the Constitution or the First Amendment. It will be up to him to come up with that wording.”
Hettrick didn’t speculate on the likelihood that such a bill could be drafted.
“I’m not a lawyer,” Hettrick said. “It will be up to the bill drafter. Mr. Paterson said to me that he believes the law should say you can’t publish the picture of a first offender. It’s not for me to judge whether the story was accurate or not, but from his point of view, it was unfair.”
In earlier published accounts of Hettrick’s bill draft proposal, he quoted Paterson as saying he hadn’t been given the opportunity by the R-C to respond.
Paterson was quoted in both stories about the altercation. Following his sentencing Feb. 5, Paterson said he wished to put the incident behind him.
n The process. Hettrick said the bill draft, BDR 111, which simply states, “restrict use by newspapers of photographs of persons under certain circumstances,” will likely be written in September. If approved as constitutional, a bill could be submitted to the Legislature after it convenes Feb. 1, 2001.
Hettrick said he is routinely contacted by constituents with bill requests.
“I’ve done a lot of these,” Hettrick said. “The only way a private citizen can get a bill through is to go to his or her legislator.”
Paterson said he is willing to relive the October altercation and aftermath when he has to testify before a legislative committee if the bill draft moves forward to change a system he believes is unjust.
“I think it’s unconstitutional to run a picture of a first offender,” he said. “I don’t expect to win this, and I know there are questions about the First Amendment, but I think it violates the Zero Amendment – people have a right to privacy.”
n R-C responds. Record-Courier editor Sheila Gardner said neither Paterson nor Hettrick contacted the paper to discuss the issue. She was contacted by two national journalism publications after the issue was reported by Nevada media late last week.
Hettrick said attention being paid to the Bill Draft Request 111 might give Paterson pause.
“I know (Mr. Paterson) feels as bad about the incident as anyone else, and he accepts responsibility for his actions,” Hettrick said. “But some of the publicity he’s going to be getting from this bill draft may give him concern.”
Paterson is willing to face that, he said.
“I only hope that it happens to one of you so you can see how it feels,” Paterson said. “It was an isolated incident. I have no history with the court system. I admit I shouldn’t have grabbed his collar – I’ll plead insanity for three seconds – but I just hope that if this law could save one person the humiliation I’ve felt, it will be worth it. I realize it’s coming into the news again, but I think it’s important.”