A judge ruled that media outlets in Seattle have to hand over unpublished videos of protests to law enforcement officials.
The ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee requires outlets to comply with a subpoena and provide the Seattle Police Department with unpublished video and photos from a May 30 racial justice protest that turned violent, according to the Seattle Times. He determined that the subpoena was enforceable because the photos and video were critical for an investigation into the alleged arson of SPD vehicles and the theft of police guns.
However, the judge did put some restrictions on what officers could do once they see the video. Lee ruled that law enforcement officials are only allowed to use the footage to pursue the arson and gun theft investigations, but they cannot use it to arrest other people for vandalism or other lesser crimes, even if they find evidence.
The Seattle Times and TV stations KIRO 7, KING 5, KOMO 4, and KCPQ 13 were the subpoenaed outlets.
“The media exist in large part to hold governments, including law enforcement agencies, accountable to the public,” said Matassa Flores, the executive editor of the Seattle Times. “We don’t work in concert with government, and it’s important to our credibility and effectiveness to retain our independence from those we cover.”
Similarly, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said the ruling “threatens the independence of the media. A free and independent media is a cornerstone of our democracy, and at a time when our basic freedoms are under attack, the City of Seattle should be doing everything possible to protect those foundational freedoms.”
The subpoena calls for the media outlets to turn over their footage during a 90-minute span on May 30. During the protests, which were in response to the death of George Floyd, vandals damaged six police vehicles, smashed windows, and removed helmets, uniforms, medical equipment, and fire extinguishers. They also started fires using an accelerant in five vehicles, according to a police affidavit and other documents. Two loaded firearms were stolen as well.
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