Former Politico labor reporter Mike Elk was recently charged with two felony counts of bribery along with public intoxication and a few other misdemeanors. But now he needs money — and fast — to defend himself against what he is describing as “two right-wing anti-union” cops who wronged him in Chattanooga.
The short version: He got into a rumble with a bartender and wound up with a mess of charges.
The longer version: Read on. I’ll try to make this as painless as possible.
A preliminary hearing set for this week has been delayed until May 21.
As anyone who has read Elk’s GoFundMe or union persuasion letters knows, his writing tends to wander in wild directions. I’m boiling it down to main points that even a BuzzFeed reader could understand.
What he wants: Between $6K and 10K to pay his legal bills.
The fine print: He was released on an $81K bail from Hamilton County Jail. He says he was forced to fork over $2,000 to get out of the jug. But he may be forced to pay $6,000 more, but his legal bills could rise exponentially. By the way, he has no lawyer. He is leaning on “outside attorneys.”
His goal: To fight the charges and sue the city of Chattanooga. “I tend [sic] to sue the fuck out of these cops and give all the money given now back to those who donate now or free books from the press if they prefer,” he explained.
The fine print: He plans to write a book that will include much of his past reporter as well as “new original reporting” on Volkswagen, Honeywell and Digital Media Unionization. He also intends to create the first unionized book printing press.
Quote of the century: “The grand irony is that I could go bankrupt over disputing a four dollar bar tap.” (Actually, the grand irony is that a guy who’s devoted his life to getting higher wages for workers got arrested for possibly trying to screw a bartender out of $4.)
So here’s what went down. Elk, who is Washington Free Beacon‘s 2015 “Man of the Year,” can tell you in his own unedited words:
“On Sunday March 6th, I was up all night organizing and on the phone with Norwood Orrick of IBEW Local 369 talking about #MediaWorkersUnite organizing when I decided to stop for a bite at a local tourist bar. When I attempted to check out my tab, I noticed that since I had been distracted on the phone with Norwood that I had been overcharged. I then attempted to dispute four dollars worth of charges on my tab.
The bartender, who had overcharged me, got upset, and said that she had “All you Northerners, who come down here, and try to pull this shit”. The bartender got very upset and yelled at me in a way that was extremely uncomfortable so I decided to pay for the $16 dollars that I had consumed of food and beer. Then I tried to leave the bar before the confrontational bartender escalated things as the tone made me quite uncomfortable as Northerner in the South.
The bouncers of the bar wouldn’t let me leave the bar and falsely imprisoned. Then, they called the cops.
The cops showed up and an older Southern cop with a thick accent began to grill me about why I had a Pennsylvania driver’s license and why I even was in Chattanooga in the first place. I told them that I was a Correspondent with the European Federation of Journalist as well as union organizer helping to organize workers at the Volkswagen plants and had come here to write a book about the VW workers.
The police officer said to me that I was ‘a long way from Pittsburgh’ and they didn’t like “people like me coming down here”. At this point, I got nervous and flipped on my tape recorder in my Buccos Jacket.”
This is when Elk alleges that things got all fucked up. And by fucked up, I mean, this is is when Elk says he tried to ease relations with the cop by bringing up his previous work with police unions.
All of sudden, the older Southern cop said ‘that’s it’ and threw me up against a bannister. Then the cop started saying in my ear which is caught by audio ‘wrong team, wrong team.'” (Elk surmises this involved his religion, which is Jewish.)
Elk said the cop then threatened to beat him if he didn’t shut up.
(He “begrudgingly” agreed to shut it for a while.)
In a very Elk move, once in the squad car, he told one of the cops that he had been recording the incident and would file charges if he was “mistreated” further.
This is when the alleged “bribery” happened. Elk says he asked the officer if he could return to the bar, pay the $4 difference and have this whole disaster disappear.
But the officer wasn’t having it: “The officer then said to me ‘Did you just bribe me?'” Elk recalled. “To which I replied ‘No’.”
Interns around town may like this. Elk has the eight hours and 45 minutes of audiotape — which he says he’ll “gladly release to any news organization that wants[sic] to transcribe it.”
The former Politico reporter said he plans to plead not guilty to all charges.
This won’t surprise any of his former colleagues, but he plans to “pursue federal civil rights charges against the police for excessive force, malicious prosecution, and targeting me for being a union organizer.”
On the bright side?
Elk said the experience has improved his union organizing skill set.
“It’s not been a fun experience at all, but it’s made me a better labor reporter,” he wrote. “While I was on the inside, I got to meet older black inmate trustees who peached solidarity. One of the older black trustees would go around and talk about how they all needed to stick together to push back against the guards.”
Elk said he briefly considered returning to Washington, but won’t because his “brothers” inside the jail can’t skip town like he can.
Visit his GoFundMe page to learn more here.