Politics & Government

NC state senator apologizes for ‘unfortunate incident’ with reporter

Sen. Paul Lowe, a Forsyth County Democrat.
Sen. Paul Lowe, a Forsyth County Democrat. N.C. General Assembly

A Democratic lawmaker apologized to a journalist on Friday after an incident earlier in the week that was recorded on video by the NC Policy Watch reporter.

Sen. Paul Lowe Jr. of Forsyth County, was accused of grabbing Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian’s phone and throwing it. The incident happened in the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh.

Killian published a story and the cell phone video on Policy Watch, a left-leaning media organization.

In Lowe’s apology, which he sent out to the news media on Friday, he does not mention what occurred beyond calling it an “incident.”

“This week, after a very disappointing vote, I was involved in a very unfortunate incident. It was an incident of my own making and for which I am very sorry. The incident involved a member of the press, Mr. Joe Killian, who at the time was engaged in the legal and lawful business of the press. I truly believe in a free press and commend all journalists for the work they do each day. I have reached out to Mr. Killian and offered my sincere apology,” Lowe said.

The incident occurred on Sept. 11, the day House Republicans successfully overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the budget. The surprise vote caught Democrats off guard. Few were in the morning House session because the minority leader told them there would be no votes, based on information from House Rules Chair David Lewis. That information later was described by some as a miscommunication.

N.C. Policy Watch posted a story by Billy Ball on its “Progressive Pulse blog, with the video and quoting Joe Killian. The video shows Lowe leaving a meeting room with Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. of Durham with his hand on Lowe’s shoulder. Walking next to them is Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat. In the video, Lowe asks Kilian what he’s doing with the camera, and Killian responds, “I’m a journalist.” Then the phone screen is covered up and muffled sounds can be heard in the background.

A statement from Killian in Policy Watch’s story said the incident was “an assault on the free press. Any North Carolinian should be able to visit the General Assembly without being assaulted.”

“Working journalists, now more than ever, have to be able to do their jobs there without fear of assault or destruction of their professional equipment. Representatives of the people of North Carolina should understand that,” Killian said in his statement.

“Upon both my invitation and that of the Democratic Leadership, we met face-to-face today to discuss the incident. In the meeting, I offered my apology to Mr. Killian and he accepted. I also offer my apology to my colleagues and to my constituents,” Lowe said.

N.C. Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield was also in the meeting, as was Sen. Democratic Leader Dan Blue.

Schofield told The News & Observer on Friday that “The Senator’s statement is accurate and speaks for itself and the matter is resolved.”

The General Assembly’s police chief told the Winston-Salem Journal that they haven’t determined if charges will be filed.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.