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Television news equipment was used in attempt to end standoff

August 24, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HANCOCK - Police used TV news equipment to try to get James A. Prevatt III to come out of his room at Americas Best Value Inn in Hancock early in the hostage standoff that ended after 45 hours.

At one point during negotiations with police, Prevatt said he would come out if his exit would be on the TV news, Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said Saturday.

Shipley said Prevatt's apparent reasoning was that a TV news crew could document how police reacted and treated him, Shipley said.

"There was an agreement by negotiators that when he came out that a TV camera would film it," Shipley said. "WHAG-TV (NBC25) agreed to let their truck and camera attempt to do that ... It wasn't live, but it would have been taped."

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Mark Kraham, NBC25's news director, said the police called the station to ask about meeting Prevatt's request. Kraham said he checked with his boss and with his station's corporate headquarters before giving approval.

Kraham said it seemed likely that if NBC25 helped, "the situation would be resolved peacefully and quickly," possibly preventing a woman thought to be a hostage from getting hurt.

However, "at no time did I want to place him live on television, and neither did the state police," he said.

On Thursday - half a day into the standoff - the truck and camera were driven up close to the room.

The driver and the person holding the camera were with the Maryland State Police, Shipley said. He said it was made clear during negotiations that a trooper would drive the truck.

Kraham said the camera person also was a state police employee in plain clothes, so his staff wasn't in danger.

During its broadcast Friday night, NBC25 briefly mentioned the assistance and showed footage of the truck being backed up.

In narrating the segment, reporter Megan Healey said authorities "even brought our NBC25 satellite truck up to the room Thursday morning when (Prevatt) wanted to be on live television."

"He was very paranoid, apparently, about the reaction of police, and said that he would consider (leaving if he was filmed), but he changed his mind and it didn't work," Shipley said during the segment.

In a phone interview Saturday, Shipley said the tactic of using a news crew as part of negotiations doesn't happen often because media organizations are hesitant to film a hostage-taker who demands it.

Asked about previous examples, he recalled a July 1991 riot at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore. Inmates had taken over a cell block and were holding correctional officers hostage.

"The inmates said they wanted to talk to reporters," said Shipley, who was a public information officer at the time.

Shipley said about 40 reporters and camera operators eventually agreed to line up along a fence so inmates could see they had access to news organizations that would listen to them if they released their hostages.

The inmates changed their mind, however, and didn't release the officers, Shipley said.

The inmates eventually surrendered.

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