A journalist was barred from covering the execution of a convicted killer because officials claimed that her skirt was too short.
Ivana Hrynkiw Shatara – the managing producer of news video and social media for AL.com – attempted to cover the state execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore on July 28. James Jr. was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of his 26-year-old ex-girlfriend –Faith Hall.
Alabama Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Kelly Betts told Shatara that she could not cover the execution because her outfit was “inappropriate” and “too revealing.”
“I have worn this skirt to prior executions without incident, to work, to professional events and more, and I believe it is more than appropriate,” Shatara wrote on Twitter. “At 5’7″, and 5′10″ with my heels on, I am a tall and long-legged person.”
“I tried to pull my skirt to my hips to make the skirt longer, but was told it was still not appropriate,” she added.
A photographer from a Birmingham TV station provided Shatara with “Columbia PFG style fisherman’s wader pants” to wear so she could cover the execution.
“I put on the man’s pants and attached the suspenders underneath my shirt to stay up,” Shatara explained. “Then, I was told my shoes (open toe heels) were also too revealing and I needed to change shoes.”
Shatara then went to her car to change into a pair of tennis shoes.
“This was an uncomfortable situation, and I felt embarrassed to have my body and my clothes questioned in front of a room of people I mostly had never met,” the reporter noted. “I sat down, tried to stop blushing, and did my work. As women often have to do.”
Kelly Ann Scott – the editor-in-chief and vice president of content for Alabama Media Group, which owns AL.com – declared that the treatment of Shatara was “unacceptable” and “unequal.”
“I’m proud to work with Ivana, who despite this treatment, continued to report the story with professionalism to our audiences in Alabama,” Scott said, according to PennLive. “This was sexist and an egregious breach of professional conduct. And it should not happen to any other reporter again.”
On Friday, AL.com sent a formal complaint to the Alabama Department of Corrections, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.
Betts personally apologized to Shatara for the incident, but added that the dress code was being enforced.
“The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has an administrative regulation regarding visitation to any ADOC facility,” Bets said in a statement. “Within this regulation, there is a dress code for all visitors, including reporters covering executions. All administrative regulations are posted on the ADOC website.”
“The wardens of each ADOC facility enforce this dress code based on each event and current safety conditions,” Betts continued. “It will be the policy of ADOC in the future to remind all members of the media about this dress code before any media event taking place at an ADOC facility.”
“We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this regulation may have caused,” the statement read. “We hope by including it in future media advisories, we can avoid this kind of situation.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections’ dress code for visitors states that they must “be dressed in business or business casual attire.” “All dresses, skirts, and pants shall extend below the knee (females only),” and “splits/slits must be knee length or lower (females only).”
Regarding shoes, the only regulation is that “slippers, shower shoes, and beach shoes” are prohibited.
There is no specific dress code policy for members of the media.
There was a second female journalist who was subjected to the same clothing inspection in front of the media center room prior to the execution. The Associated Press reporter passed the dress code.
The Associated Press sent a letter to the Alabama governor demanding that an investigation be launched and “ensure such behavior is not tolerated and does not occur again.”
“Singling out female reporters for arbitrary clothing inspections is humiliating, discriminatory and simply unacceptable behavior toward professional journalists trying to cover one of the most serious events they are called upon to witness,” said AP executive editor Julie Pace.
WXIA-TV journalist Kaitlyn Ross said, “I have also been denied entry in to a government facility to report on a court case because my professional clothing was deemed ‘too revealing.’ It’s exhausting to be a woman. You did a great job under ridiculous circumstances. I’m sorry this happened.”
There was a three-hour delay in the execution because of issues establishing an intravenous line for James Jr., according to prison officials. The inmate was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m., WTVY reported.