UPDATE 10:30 p.m.: CORRECTS recognition date of Dr. Indrakrishnan

A state representative from Richmond County passed out during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol Wednesday.

Rep. Karlton Howard (D-129) fainted on the House steps and was immediately rendered aid by Rep. Dr. Michelle Au (D-50), an anaesthesiologist who was standing near Howard at the time, and the doctor of the day on duty, Dr. Indran B. Indrakrishnan. Rep. Ruwa Romman (D-97) offered a bottle of water.

Members of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation and others standing near Howard were visibly shocked when he suddenly dropped to the floor during Sen. Nan Orrock’s (D-36) speech:

State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-34, upper left) reacts as State Rep. Karlton Howard (D-129) collapses during a press conference called by Democrats after Gov. Brian Kemp’s State of the State speech, January 25, 2023. Sen. Nan Orrock (D-36) was at the podium. Elected officials repeatedly ordered photojournalists to stop documenting the incident. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Several minutes elapsed, during which members of the House and Senate ordered reporters not to photograph the incident, including The Clayton Crescent. At one point, elected officials yelled at two photographers on the level above who also were documenting the emergency.

Dr. Indran Indrakrishnan, Dr. Rep. Michelle Au (D-50), and others render aid to Rep. Karlton Howard (D-129) at the Georgia Capitol Wednesday after Howard collapsed during a press conference. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Lawmakers then stood around Howard, who was still being treated. “Give him his privacy!” someone shouted. A wheelchair was brought over and elected officials and staffers held up black bunting to block the view of reporters covering the hurriedly-adjourned press conference. The area where the press conference was held is a public space:

State officials use a black bunting to block the media’s view as Rep. Karlton Howard (D-129) is wheeled into CAP 232 for medical attention after he collapsed during a press conference. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Howard appeared to be alert a few minutes after being brought to CAP 232, where he stood up, then sat down in the wheelchair again.

Soon after, The Clayton Crescent saw Howard standing outside a security booth outside the Gold Dome, then sitting down in the wheelchair. Au stood with him as staffers zipped around:

Rep. Karlton Howard (D-129, seated) and Rep. Dr. Michelle Au (D-50, right background) waiting outside the Georgia Capitol building after Howard passed out during a press conference. Au was standing close to Howard at the time and immediately rendered aid. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

In a video Howard posted to Facebook late Wednesday, Howard said he was in good shape and hinted that he had been dehydrated:

“All is well! She’s the medical technician that check out ALL of my numbers and vital organs,” Howard wrote. “Recommendation, ‘your body needs fluids or it will tell on you.'”

Howard joked, “Y’all tell everybody!”

Local TV stations in Augusta, along with The Augusta Chronicle, carried the story. Rep. Brian Prince (D-132) told the Chronicle’s Abraham Kenmore Wednesday, “He basically had a fainting spell…He’s doing well. He’s home resting and he’ll be back in the morning.”

This is Howard’s first session under the Gold Dome. A pastor, he holds the seat previously held by his brother, the late Rep. Henry “Wayne” Howard, who died October 13.

Earlier Wednesday morning, the House had recognized Indrakrishnan, a gastroenterologist, part-time faculty member of the Emory School of Medicine, and member of Riverdale’s Hindu Temple of Atlanta, as the doctor of the day. Indrakrishnan is an advocate for colorectal cancer screening and has served at the Georgia Capitol for many years.

The Clayton Crescent asked Howard’s office for specifics as to:

  • who else rendered aid to Rep. Howard
  • how long he was unconscious
  • whether he had been transported to a hospital after the incident

Howard’s office referred The Clayton Crescent to the House Media Services liaison and House messenger, Betsey Theroux, who said she did not have “any information that is responsive to your requests.”

The Clayton Crescent has asked a Capitol Police spokesman to provide more specifics about the incident, as well as about safeguards in place for members of the General Assembly and for the public who might experience a medical emergency.

The Clayton Crescent also has filed a complaint with Attorney General Chris Carr’s office regarding government officials’ interference with the credentialed journalists who were covering the press conference. The letter reads in part:

“It is every journalist’s responsibility and sacred Constitutionally-guaranteed right to record such incidents in public spaces, continuously and without any government interference whatsoever.

“Our intent in doing so is not to embarrass Rep. Howard or anyone in a similar state of distress, nor is our interest prurient, predatory, or profit-driven. It is to document what is happening to an elected official in a public space: who is coming in physical contact with or in close proximity to a lawmaker in distress; what acts are being performed on the person and by whom; how long it takes to render aid; where the person is taken; how long the person is there; and whether the person recovers, is transported, or dies at the scene.

“The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that “Congress [or the Georgia Assembly] shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech, or of the press.” It is a clear First Amendment violation for elected officials (the state) in a public building (the Georgia Capitol) during a public event (a press conference) to order members of the media or of the public to stop recording or photographing anything.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ “Photographer’s Guide to Privacy” notes there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public space, particularly for public figures such as elected officials:

“If the subject of the photograph has no reasonable expectation of privacy, then no invasion of privacy is possible. Photographs taken in public places generally are not actionable. Photos of crimes, arrests and accidents usually are immune from ‘publication of private facts’ privacy claims because they are of ‘legitimate public concern,’ which is an element of the tort. Public figures, who voluntarily expose themselves to scrutiny, waive much of their right to privacy.”

While the Georgia Assembly does have certain rules rules about media access to the House Chamber and not filming any objects on a Senator’s desk without permission, no such rules apply to public areas outside the chamber.

Read The Clayton Crescent’s full letter to Attorney General Chris Carr:

Learn more about First Amendment protections for photographers and the ethics of photojournalism:

Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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