Kerry Condemns Heckler Arrest

Sep 18, 2007 11:48am

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Sen. John Kerry on Tuesday comdemned the arrest of a University of Florida student at one of his speeches, saying that he was engaged in a "good healthy discussion" with 21-year-old Andrew Meyer when he was Tasered and taken into custody.

"In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way," Kerry said in a statement. "I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption, but I do not know what warnings or other exchanges transpired between the young man and the police prior to his barging to the front of the line and their intervention. I asked the police to allow me to answer the question and was in the process of responding when he was taken into custody."

"I was not aware that a taser was used until after I left the building," he continued. "I hope that neither the student nor any of the police were injured. I regret enormously that a good healthy discussion was interrupted."

For politicians, hecklers come with the territory. But the arrest and detention of Meyer at Kerry speech on Monday stood out in at least two respects: Police acted aggressively in trying to silence Meyer, and the entire incident was captures on video — making it an immediate Internet and TV sensation.

Videos show Meyer being pulled away from the microphone after as he sought to ask Kerry, D-Mass., a rambling series of questions that touch on allegations of voting improprieties in the 2004 election, possible impeachment of President Bush, Iran, and Kerry’s membership in Yale’s secret Skull and Bones society.

Kerry sought to answer at least some of Meyer’s questions even as Meyer was dragged off by campus police — and after police used a Taser to try to subdue him as he was being arrested.

"Help me! Help!" Meyer says. "What are you doing! Get off of me! Don’t Taser me, bro! Oh my God! Oh my God!"

Watch a clip from ABC’s "Good Morning America" here.

Meyer was jailed overnight on charges of disturbing the peace and resisting an officer. As word spread of his arrest, his friends used his Website as a clearinghouse for supporters to learn about the incident, and to organize a rally on his behalf on the University of Florida campus at noon ET today.

The University of Florida has scheduled a news conference to discuss the incident at 3 pm ET today.

University spokesman Steve Orlando defended the officers’ actions in an interview with the Associated Press, but said an internal investigation would be conducted to make sure they acted appropriately.

"He apparently asked several questions — he went on for quite awhile — then he was asked to stop," Orlando said of Meyer. "He had used his allotted time. His microphone was cut off, then he became upset."

Typically, hecklers and aggressive questioners are handled informally at political events. Shouts of "boo" or political chants drown out someone who dominates a forum, and peer pressure normally is enough to regain order.

But sometimes, law-enforcement officials take a more aggressive tack.

During the 2004 campaign, protesters were occasionally ushered off of the premises by Secret Service officers assigned to protect President Bush. In one incident, in West Virginia in July 2004, two protesters at a Bush event say they were arrested for refusing to cover up their anti-Bush T-shirts.

In another, post-campaign incident that drew wide publicity, two people were ejected from a presidential event in March 2005 in Denver. In a lawsuit, they claim they were kicked out even before the president arrived because they drove up in a car with a bumper sticker that said, "No more blood for oil."

In this year’s presidential race, security has been a major concern early on. One candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., gets Secret Service protection because of her status as a former first lady, while another, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has been assigned protection because of concerns over his safety.

Kerry, who was the Democrats’ nominee in 2004, is no longer assigned Secret Service protection, and does not bring his own security to events. That left University of Florida police in charge of security — to notable results on Monday.

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