Woman accuses news crew of assault at candidate forum

The woman at the center of allegations of assault against a KXAN reporter and his cameraman told the Hays Free Press she was shocked at the news crew’s behavior.

Michele Hart said she was knocked from behind by reporter Jody Barr and then hit over the head with the heavy video camera during a candidates’ forum in Wimberley Feb. 5 that was sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police. Moreover, she said neither man apologized for what had happened.

Hart said she was trying to ask a question of Pct. 3 Constable Ray Helm, who appeared at the forum along with Jessica Deatherage, his competitor in the March 3 Republican primary, when the news crew pushed past her in what was actually the first of two confrontations. “I was pushed by this guy. I looked at him and said, ‘Excuse me? You just pushed me. I was trying to ask him a question,’ and the reporter said ‘Well, I was too.’”

A big crowd including many uniformed officers were at the Wimberley Community Center and the news crew had been repeatedly trying to question Helm, Hart said, “shoving the microphone in his face and asking questions,” persisting when Helm tried to walk away. “They were pushing people out of the way asking questions.”

Hart said after the forum had concluded she and her husband were headed toward the door. “I saw the reporter with the cameraman behind him trying to push against people to get to the door Ray went out of … The next thing I know I’m being shoved real hard then hit in the head. It felt like a metal chair and I looked straight up and saw the camera.”

It left a knot on her head and though someone offered to summon EMS, she declined. “I’m a registered nurse and I thought I would be OK. I asked them to get me a bag of ice and I had to hold it on my head,” she said, adding that she was “in a bit of a fog” the next morning.

That next morning, however, she called KXAN News Director Chad Cross who she said confirmed to her that the whole incident was caught on video.

“I asked him, ‘Is this a practice with your reporter?’ He apologized and said yes it did happen.”

Hart said Cross told her what she “didn’t see” was that the crew had been pushed by other people. Cross did not respond to a Hays Free Press inquiry seeking confirmation and more detail.

She said neither man apologized, even though she and her husband were there for probably an hour after she was hit, providing ample opportunity. “It was shocking, really. Who acts like that? Even today there’s been no call, nothing, even after I told their boss. You would think common manners would dictate giving me a call to say they’re sorry.”

Though she is pressing charges, Hart said she would have been satisfied with “maybe an apology, and maybe (for them to) stop harassing people.”

In a Thursday morning news release, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office described the incident as involving “an Austin area television crew  and staff members of Hays County Precinct 3 Constable Ray Helm’s office.”

Because Wimberley has no police department, the HCSO responded, took the report and gathered statements. Because of the involvement of an elected official’s staff, the Texas Rangers have been called in to investigate, which is according to protocol.

The HCSO said it would not further comment.

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