NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Police executed a search warrant on the offices of a city newspaper yesterday, retrieving a New Brunswick Water Utility water meter that is alleged to be “stolen property,” according to the court document.
Charlie Kratovil, co-founder and editor of the activist community newspaper New Brunswick Today, filmed the 13-minute-long search and subsequent seizure of a green, corroded meter and its radio reader around 4 p.m. Dec. 20. A confidential source gave the piece of equipment to the journalist, who is investigating allegations of corruption in the water utility, Kratovil said.
Superior Court Judge Colleen Flynn signed the warrant at 3 p.m. yesterday, allowing city detectives to confiscate the water meter and a memory card that stores a recent episode of The New Brunswick Today Show featuring the object. Two detectives said they took the meter after the water utility reported it stolen.
Police had asked to seize Kratovil’s camera, but Flynn denied the request. Cops didn’t take a digital storage device, as the video in question was live-streamed online.
New Brunswick Police Capt. J.T. Miller said he couldn’t comment on “the specifics of an ongoing investigation.” But he confirmed that Kratovil “was cooperative” with detectives who executed the warrant.
City spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw referred all questions to Miller. She expects to release a comment from the mayor’s office this afternoon.
The water meter in question could be evidence of a crime in the water utility’s ranks, Kratovil told TAPinto New Brunswick. He planned to have the item tested by a company in North Jersey today, to see if it had been tampered with in any way.
“It’s not 100 percent proven yet, but we did some due diligence, and we found that this water meter looks like it might be proof of a crime,” Kratovil said, adding that a source told him as much.
Kratovil complied with a search because he didn’t want police to arrest him, he said.
Prior to the execution of the search warrant, Miller and Kratovil had scheduled a meeting for Thursday morning. Kratovil planned to bring the water meter to the get-together.
The newspaper editor, who once led a charge to change New Brunswick’s elections to a ward-based system, has butted heads with city cops before.
In June 2014, Kratovil saw a city police officer toss two unmarked traffic-ticket booklets in a garbage can. Police later seized the booklets from Kratovil.
The next month, New Brunswick police set up a sting operation in which a would-be undercover source claimed to have a scoop for Kratovil. When he showed up to the meeting site, police arrested the city resident for violating a temporary restraining order, a charge that was ultimately thrown out.
The most recent episode, however, raises questions regarding protections for journalists, their sources and materials obtained during the course of reporting. TAPinto New Brunswick has a call out to the New Jersey Press Association for comment and will update this story accordingly.
Since the execution of the search warrant, Kratovil has taken to social media and email to try to galvanize support for New Brunswick Today’s journalistic rights and backlash against the New Brunswick Police Department. Several of his followers have expressed interest in raising the issue at tonight’s 6:30 p.m. council meeting.