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Vanderbilt-commissioned report on Nashville Scene reporter's arrest continues to blame him • Tennessee Lookout

Vanderbilt University continued to blame a reporter from the Nashville Scene and, in a report commissioned by the university and released Tuesday, placed some of the blame on the officers involved in his arrest.

The report, prepared by the law firm Neal & Harwell and paid for by the university, claims that officers arrested Nashville Scene journalist Eli Motycka not because he was a reporter, but because he tried to enter a building closed to the public where students were protesting.

However, the report states that officers did not ask or give Motycka a chance to leave the building before his arrest. It goes on to say that the arrest was the result of a miscommunication between officers. VUPD officers claimed they told their officers not to make arrests.

The Neal & Harwell report confirms that during these protests, there was complete chaos in Vanderbilt's administration and campus police.

– Tricia Herzfeld, attorney for Eli Motycka

Motycka declined to comment for this article and issued a statement through his attorneys Tricia Herzfeld and Abby Rubenfeld.

“The Neal & Harwell report confirms that Vanderbilt administration and campus police were in complete disarray during these protests,” Herzfeld said. “This resulted in the wrongful arrest of our client, a reporter who was simply doing his job. We hope Vanderbilt heeds the recommendations in this report and develops a truly media-friendly policy while making things right with Eli.”

The Lookout reached out to Vanderbilt officials and sent them several questions, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

background

Across the country, students at universities such as Columbia and UCLA, as well as at smaller universities such as Sewanee, are protesting against the war between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Motycka was one of the first reporters to cover the protests and sit-ins at Vanderbilt University. On March 20, he published an article about how students said the university tried to keep the demonstrations calm.

“[Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel] Diermeier's strategy is to expand and tighten university rules on free speech and, in turn, to crack down on students who do not adhere to administration-approved definitions of speech,” Motycka wrote.

As part of his reporting, Motycka covered a student protest in front of a university building that was closed to the public on March 26 due to construction work.

When he tried to cover the protest, he was arrested by university officials and removed from campus. He was released a few hours later after a local judge found there was insufficient probable cause to arrest him and the Nashville district attorney said he would not prosecute a reporter for doing his job.

The Neal & Harwell report details how, on the day of his arrest, Motycka informed the campus communications department that he was covering the protest. Officers were then informed of his presence on campus and shown a photograph of him.

“The stated plan was to determine if he was in the building and, if so, to ask him to leave the building,” the report said.

Vanderbilt is a private university and therefore has a lot of discretion in deciding who can and cannot enter the 840-acre campus, which occupies much of Nashville's Midtown neighborhood.

University officials have claimed they have a uniform media policy that requires news outlets to seek approval before covering campus news, and they continually remind news outlets of this. But the report found that these reminders only went to broadcast media, not print media or other outlets like the Nashville Scene.

Reporters from The Tennessean and Vanderbilt Hustler were also present on the day of his arrest.

The report concludes with several statements from the university saying they support freedom of expression and did not intend the arrest to “hinder” Motycka's reporting, adding that he might have been arrested even if he had not been a reporter for repeatedly attempting to open the door of a closed building.

The reporter refused to name Motycka or the officers involved in his arrest.

In a column after his arrest, Motycka said he wanted three things from the university: the release of all footage, clarification on whether he would be allowed to enter the campus in the future, and an apology.

“My arrest was not only personally embarrassing and physically uncomfortable, it was also professionally inconvenient,” Motycka said. “It prevented me from publishing a story I wanted to cover.”

The report

Editor's note: The publicly available PDF copy of the report is not searchable. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Neal Harwell Report – Final for publication