A screenshot from a newscast by Columbia television station WLTX on Tuesday showing a Columbia Housing Authority officer stopping two reporters after they were attempting to examine records tied to gas leaks at the Allen Benedict Court where two men died.
COLUMBIA — A pair of Columbia TV reporters said Tuesday they were detained and handcuffed by security officers at a troubled public housing complex where two men died this month.
Jenna Kurzyna and Susan Ardis from CBS affiliate WLTX said on the station’s newscast they were stopped by Columbia Housing Authority officers after leaving the administrative offices at the Allen Benedict Court in an attempt to examine records.
Reporters from the TV station had visited the office to review records last week.
On Tuesday, the Housing Authority officers asked the reporters to leave, and they complied quickly, WLTX General Manager Rich O’Dell said.
But when Kurzyna and Ardis started to drive away in a car marked with the station’s logo, a Housing Authority security vehicle blocked their path and officers handcuffed and detained the reporters, O’Dell said.
They were told they were being arrested for trespassing, O’Dell said.
After about 30 minutes, the reporters were released from custody when an attorney for the Columbia Housing Authority was called.
“It’s never good when journalists are arrested while doing their job,” said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association. “I’m glad they were released promptly.”
Housing Authority attorney Bob Coble, a former longtime Columbia mayor, said he reached out to security officers after speaking with Jay Bender, a lawyer who represents several news outlets in the state. Columbia Housing Authority Director Gilbert Walker also spoke to officers about releasing the reporters, Coble said.
“We’re very sorry that this happened,” Coble said. “A reporter who identifies themselves as a reporter should not be arrested.”
Columbia police and firefighters check apartments at the Allen Benedict Court complex on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, while evacuating residents after inspectors found severe gas leaks in more than 60 units. File/Andrew Brown/Staff
The Columbia Housing Authority has hired security to watch over the site since more than 400 residents were ordered to leave Allen Benedict Court almost two weeks ago.
After two men were discovered dead in separate apartments late on Jan. 17, Columbia fire crews inspected all 244 apartments at Allen Benedict through the next morning.
Authorities ordered the complete evacuation of the complex, less than 2 miles from the Statehouse, after finding gas leaks or concentrations of carbon monoxide in more than 60 apartments. Residents were sent to area hotels.
This week, the Richland County coroner ruled Calvin Witherspoon Jr., 61, and Derrick Caldwell Roper, 30, died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Residents have said they complained to the authority about gas leaks. Walker said residents “never complained” and blamed the higher gas readings found by inspectors on doors not being opened for a number of hours.
Before the deaths, plans were underway to replace Allen Benedict Court, built in the 1930s, with newer housing, though no timetable was released.
Evacuated residents were initially told they could return to their apartments within two weeks. But now Coble says residents will not return to the complex because repairs are too costly.
Columbia Housing Authority news release apologizing for detaining and handcuffing two TV reporters on Tuesday.