Newspaper editor arrested at crash site near Polson wants charges dropped; county has video

A northwestern Montana newspaper editor who was arrested at the scene of a highway accident says he was covering the news and is asking a court to dismiss charges that he interfered with a crash investigation and resisted arrest.

Vincent Lovato Jr., editor of the weekly Lake County Leader, argues he should have been allowed to stay at the scene because he is a reporter and was doing his job. He has pleaded not guilty to obstructing a peace officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Lake County prosecutors say officers had probable cause to arrest Lovato on Oct. 1 after he ignored an order to move outside the crash scene being investigated. Prosecutors say they have video and audio evidence of Lovato refusing to leave the crime scene, resisting arrest and unleashing a string of profanity after he was taken into custody, according to court records.

Justice of the Peace Joey Jayne has scheduled a Dec. 1 pretrial hearing, the Missoulian reported.

Lovato's attorney, Peter Michael Meloy, filed a motion arguing the charges should be dismissed because there was no crime-scene tape marking the area of investigation and Lovato was not advised that he had entered a crime scene.

"It has been well-settled for over 40 years that the First Amendment protects both private individuals and media photographers engaged in the activity of photographing government officials performing their public duties," the motion states.

Deputy Lake County Attorney James Lapotka responded: "The defendant was not arrested for taking pictures. He was arrested for obstructing a peace officer and now seeks to frame this issue as one of journalistic rights and First Amendment liberties."

Law enforcement vehicles with flashing lights designated the crime scene, Lapotka said. He said Lovato's refusal to leave hindered the investigation.