North Carolina state Sen. Paul Lowe has apologized after a Policy Watch reporter said the senator assaulted him and hurled his phone in the hallway of the Legislative Building Wednesday morning.
Joe Killian, investigative reporter for Policy Watch, says he was covering Wednesday’s budget drama at approximately 10:20 a.m. when he heard screaming from behind a closed door, followed by a shout for police assistance.
Afterward, Killian said he saw Lowe — a Forsyth County Democrat — exiting the room, flanked by Democratic senators Floyd McKissick Jr. and Jay Chaudhuri. When he began filming with his phone, Lowe approached Killian.
Killian provided footage of the altercation with Lowe (see below for the video). In it, Lowe can be heard asking, “What are you doing with your camera?”
“I’m a journalist,” Killian began to reply, before Killian said Lowe grabbed at his hand to snatch his phone.
After a brief struggle, Killian says the two-term state senator, a pastor at a Winston-Salem church, threw Killian’s phone across the room and stormed away. Killian says he was not injured in the altercation.
“What happened today isn’t just an assault on me,” Killian said in a statement. “It’s 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.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Lowe apologized, but declined to discuss why he approached Killian in such an aggressive manner, or what was happening behind that closed door.
“I apologize for anything that I’ve done,” Lowe said. “It was an unfortunate circumstance. I apologize for that circumstance. I’d be more than happy to sit down and talk with him.”
Rob Schofield, director of Policy Watch, offered this statement:
“Senator Lowe’s unprovoked actions this morning targeted a working journalist just doing his job. They were outrageous, unacceptable, and sadly indicative of a trend we’ve seen from an alarming number of public officials.”
Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue added this statement:
“Based on the accounts reported to me, I see Senator Lowe’s actions as wholly unacceptable. I will do everything in my capacity as the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus to see that it is never repeated.”
Killian said General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock interviewed him briefly after the incident. Brock did not respond to a phone call Wednesday afternoon.
The incident occurred in the tense hours after Republican lawmakers held a surprise vote on the state House floor early Wednesday when many Democrats were absent, overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the $24 billion budget.
Democrats were incensed, claiming GOP leadership said there would be no voting in the chamber Wednesday. But House Speaker Tim Moore denied there was any announcement that no votes would be held in session Wednesday.
At the time of the incident, lawmakers, including Lowe, were holding closed-door meetings following the vote, which brought Republicans one step closer to ending the budget impasse with Cooper.
Billy Ball is the managing editor of N.C. Policy Watch.