"There is no gray area. I did absolutely nothing wrong," Rensberger said Monday. "Did they talk to everyone there? ... If they asked for witnesses right then and there, that would impress me."
Webster said Basford acted properly in stopping Rensberger, who parents had said was taking pictures of their children. At the time he stopped Rensberger, Basford had the right to conduct a field interview to determine whether a crime had been committed. Witnesses said Rensberger became immediately antagonistic, Webster said. Police can't stop someone from taking their photo in a general sense, but at that time, Basford was conducting a field interview.
"And while we're doing an investigation, we are going to need people to cooperate and let us figure out what's going on," Webster said. "And that's what Basford said he was doing from the very beginning."
From there, events went downhill quickly, Webster said.
"I'm greatly concerned about our perception with the public, but if I'm going to make a personnel decision, I've got to make it based on facts," Webster said. "And the facts and the witnesses exonerated the officer."
Webster said the internal investigation has no bearing on the charges against Rensberger. The two investigations are handled separately.
Rensberger said he will be in town for the preliminary hearing in magistrate court March 1.
"I've got to fight it. I have no choice," Rensberger said. "If I spend my children's college fund fighting it, you can be doggone sure I'm going to put the police on trial."
He said if he filed a lawsuit in the case, he would seek attorney's fees and donate any other money he was awarded to a local Charleston charity.
"If he would have approached me and said I'm officer so-and-so, do you mind if we walk over here and talk?' Guess what I would have said? 'Sure, let's go talk.' But when four officers come over and ask, 'Why are you taking pictures of kids?' I find that very offensive," Rensberger said. "I've never slapped anyone as an adult. Officer Basford had gotten into street fights, so you know his file has something in it."
In 2006, Charleston Fire Department Lieutenant Scott Allred was accused of assaulting Basford. In court, Allred, 36, admitted that he punched Basford once in the nose in the Verizon parking lot on MacCorkle Avenue in the early morning hours of April 9, 2006, but said he acted out of self-defense after Basford rushed him. Allred was found not guilty on all charges by a Kanawha Circuit Court jury.
And this isn't Rensberger's first run-in with police while using a camera.
In 1994, he was arrested in Hawaii while attempting to cover Bill Gates' marriage. He was booked for investigation of trespassing, but the charges were dropped when he agreed to leave the island.
He sued Gates and Dole Food Co., which owned most of the island where the wedding was being held, according to an article at the time in the Seattle Times. Rensberger won a partial summary judgment against Gates and Dole Foods. The judge ruled he should have been allowed to film on public property.
As a part of the settlement, Rensberger received letters of apology from both Dole and Gates.
"... I was working as a journalist at the time and I was there [at the mall] as a private citizen," Rensberger said in December. "I'm very proud of that. I took on these two powerful people and I won. And I'll do the same thing here and donate the proceeds to charity if it comes to that."
Reach Gary Harki at gha...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.