A freelance photographer and his NBC contact were caught on camera trying to squirm their way out of trouble in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month, when the freelancer was stopped for running a red light while trying to keep up with the Rittenhouse jury van.
Kenosha police on Tuesday released the body camera video of the November 17 stop. James Morrison, the driver of the vehicle, identified himself as an NBC producer.
“Were you following a vehicle?” Officer Jones asked.
“I was trying to see—I was being called by New York—going maybe these are the people you need to follow, but I don’t know,” Morrison sputtered incoherently. “I was trying to—”
“Trying to what?” Officer Jones asked impatiently.
“I was just trying to do what they told me to do,” Morrison explained weakly.
“New York told you to follow a vehicle?” the officer demanded.
“Yes,” the producer replied.
“How did they know about this vehicle?” the officer inquired.
“I mean it was discreet,” Morrison stammered. “I wasn’t like—you know—trying to talk to anybody. Just trying to find a location—that’s all.”
The officer relayed to police headquarters that a producer had been directed by an NBC official in New York to follow the jury bus.
He then asked Morrison if he had that individual’s number. Morrison asked if he could call his boss, Irene Byon, on the phone, and Jones said, “sure!”
“Hey-a! Law enforcement wants to talk to you,” Morrison told Byon when she picked up the phone.
“Hi, this is Officer Jones, Kenosha Police. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on here—why do you have a reporter, or a producer following vehicles out here?” the officer said.
Byon identified herself as a booking producer for NBC News.
“We were just trying to respectfully—um—just trying to see if it’s um—if it’s possible to um—find any leads—um—about the case,” Byon explained haltingly. “So we were—um—we were just keeping our distance—um—just to see like—where—um—people involved in the trial—um—are positioned.”
She again stressed that NBC wasn’t trying to talk to these people—they were only trying to find out where they lived.
“By no means were we trying to get in contact with any of the jury members, or whoever was in the car,” she insisted. “We were just trying to see like where, um, where key players in the trial may be at.”
After communicating more with headquarters, Officer Jones asked Byon if she had advised Morrison to follow the vehicle.
“Did you know what vehicle he was following?” he asked.
“We just had our—um—people positioned in different areas of the courthouse to see if anyone—like—would be able to end up in different areas, so we were just like … people following [unintelligible]—”
“We’re going to ask you guys to not do that. All right?” Jones interjected. “That’s a concern here. This is huge. We can’t afford to have something crazy happening—putting people in dangerous positions,” he added. “This person violated some traffic laws here doing this, so we’re going to ask you guys to refrain from doing that.”
“Understood, thank you so much, and we’re very sorry!” Byon groveled.
“Very sorry!” Morrison echoed.
In a statement the next day, NBC News described Morrison as a freelancer who had received a traffic ticket in Kenosha, but didn’t deny that he was following the jury bus.
Last night, a freelancer received a traffic citation. While the traffic violation took place near the jury van, the freelancer never contacted or intended to contact the jurors during deliberations, and never photographed or intended to photograph them. We regret the incident and will fully cooperate with the authorities on any investigation.
There was no arrest for jury tampering, but Judge Bruce Schroeder did ban MSNBC from the courthouse for the remainder of the trial.
Byon shut down both her LinkedIn profile and Twitter account after this story broke, last month.