It is a touchy subject. The video has been played frame by frame for weeks and widely debated. At question – did Donald Trump’s Campaign Manager, Corey Lewandowski, commit a battery against a Breitbart reporter by grabbing her arm during a Trump campaign event in Florida? The video shows Trump making his way through a very crowded room with reporters, secret service, campaign staffers, supporters and others jostling for position. Reporter Michelle Fields was covering the event for Breitbart, and claimed Lewandowski grabbed her arm as she tried to get closer to Trump. She was upset and days later tweeted a photo of a bruise on her arm. Fields told Fox News she would have never filed charges if Lewandowski had apologized, but he did not apologize and said he never touched her. In the new video, it appears he quickly grabs her arm as he moves through the crowd. Her employer disagreed with Fields’ claim, so she quit her job with the conservative media outlet and now Lewandowski is charged with one count of misdemeanor battery under Florida law. This serves as a wakeup call to understand the rules of touching.
As a former journalist, I have been in the middle of the campaign fray and stuff happens — touching, shoving and even cursing. The strangest “touchy” media encounter I have ever come across involved the Public Relations Director for Laguna Honda Hospital and Bay Area ABC News reporter Dan Noyes. Noyes was investigating the hospital’s use of funds and PR Director, Marc Slavin, did not like it when Noyes showed up to ask questions at a town hall meeting. A video shared widely on social media showed Slavin repeatedly touching the news reporter — more than a dozen times, and he continued to do so even when Noyes objected and threatened to call the police. While Noyes did not press charges, the incident brought unfavorable attention to the hospital and their PR person.
What are the rules of touching people? What constitutes battery or harassment? Houston Attorney Ty Doyle says, as with most law-related questions, the answer is “it depends” and laws vary from state to state. Unwanted touching is called battery. In some states, battery requires some kind of wrongful intent, but Doyle says in states like Florida where Lewandowski is charged, the intent need only be the intent to touch without consent. Obviously, if you do something violent like throwing a punch, that will constitute a battery, but in some states contact does not have to cause serious physical injury in order to be a battery; Doyle says offensive conduct such as spitting at someone or damaging one’s clothing could constitute a battery, as well.
As a trial lawyer, Doyle has witnessed his share of people who could have avoided litigation if they had simply apologized. So, there are two morals to this story: 1) Keep your hands to yourself and do not touch people without their consent 2) If you do touch them without their consent, immediately apologize! Otherwise, you may need a lawyer and you could become a social media star – for all the wrong reasons!