Maine State Police impersonated a journalist during a deadly standoff with a hostage taker when a TV news reporter received a call from the suspect and handed his cellphone to police.
WGME-TV’s Taylor Cairns was shocked to receive the call Monday evening while at the scene of an armed standoff in Livermore Falls, Maine. He informed police who used the phone to continue a conversation with the suspect while posing as a reporter.
WGME-TV said it was alarmed and reached out to state police for answers. State Police Maj. Bill Ross called it an impromptu decision and a “unique circumstance” and acknowledged it was “not a good practice.”
The hours-long standoff ended with the suspect, Donald White, dead and all three hostages safely released. White, 44, was shot by a trooper and took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Authorities also found multiple explosive devices in the home.
Police posing as journalist sets a dangerous precedent that lead to blurred roles and an erosion of public trust in journalism, critics said.
The phone never should have been handed to police “without a warrant or other legal means of compulsion,” Michael Socolow, a journalism professor at the University of Maine, told the Bangor Daily News.
Dan Kennedy, a professor of media ethics at Northeastern University, agreed that the incident “raises media ethics concerns” but recognized that “in-the-moment” decisions were required.
“You can see what a difficult situation everybody was in,” Kennedy told the newspaper. “Lives were at stake here.”
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Maine State Police and the TV station declined further comment Thursday.
Livermore Falls is located about 28 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of Augusta, Maine.
The Associated Press contributed to this article