Sheriff Looking For ‘Person Of Interest’ After Reporter Attacked During Anti-Mask Rally

Grand Traverse Sheriff's Office
|
September 1, 2021 11:06 a.m.

A reporter in Traverse City, Michigan was allegedly assaulted during an anti-mask rally, and now the sheriff’s office is seeking information on one of the two men potentially involved.

The incident was just the latest in months of reporters facing aggressive pushback, and sometimes violence, for doing their jobs. 

Brendan Quealy, a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle, was covering a event hosted by a group opposed to vaccine and mask mandates in schools Thursday when a speaker from Citizens Liberating Michigan, Heather Cerone, addressed him directly. 

“There’s no reporting, Brendan,” Cerone said. “We don’t authorize that. So, you guys feel like standing in front of him?”

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The reporter was recording audio at the time, which the paper posted online with its initial story on the alleged assault. On that audio, people can be heard yelling at Quaely before at least one man is heard confronting the reporter.

“Joe, take a deep breath,” Cerone can be heard saying in the background.

“You don’t get to record the meeting! Get out of here!” someone can be heard telling Quaely before others begin to shout “no fighting!”

“There’s no violence!” Cerone says before the recording cuts off — though that message seems to have come a bit late.

Quaely gave a description of what happened to his paper, and to law enforcement: Two men approached him and pushed him, he said, and then one of them shoved him into a wooden fence and punched him in the face with both fists.

The local sheriff’s office is now seeking a person of interest in the attack.

“We have one person identified that had an interaction with [the reporter],” Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Clark told the Record-Eagle. “The second person that had an interaction with him is who we are trying to identify. We’re putting a photo on Facebook in an effort to try and identify that person.”

Though the event took place at a picnic pavilion that can be rented for private functions, the area around the pavilion is open to reporters and members of the public, local prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg told the paper. 

The attack wasn’t even the only one in the past week: On Monday, police in Gulfport, Mississippi issued an arrest warrant for Benjamin Eugene Dagley, who’s accused among other things of two counts of simple assault — for aggressively confronting MSNBC correspondent Shaquille Brewster during live coverage of Hurricane Ida. (The same man reportedly has a criminal past that includes drilling holes into tanks of dangerous chemicals.)

Near the beginning of the pandemic, a Long Island based reporter sought to report on a local anti-mask rally only to be harassed and followed around by angry protesters. 

In California, a local reporter covering a COVID-fueled recall effort aimed at several county supervisors has faced months of online threats for her coverage. “What do you expect when you go out and smear lies about people?” one recall leader said of the threats. 

And that’s not to mention the reporters assaulted by Capitol rioters in January, or roughed up by law enforcement during last summer’s racial justice protests.

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