Seattle, WA – A judge ordered five news outlets to turn over unpublished videos and pictures from a violent riot in Seattle on May 30 to the Seattle Police Department.
King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee found that the materials the media outlets were withholding from the police were critical for the investigation into the arson of police department vehicles and the theft of officers’ weapons, The Seattle Times reported.
Rioters broke into police vehicles and stole the rifles from inside it on May 30 during the anti-police riots that following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
At least one of the suspects who stole the guns was captured on video as he started firing the rifle at vehicles.
An armed security guard working for a news crew in the area wasn’t about to wait for anybody to get hurt, and quickly disarmed the rioter.
Dramatic video captured the moment the guard ran towards an armed rioter with his pistol drawn and ordered the suspect to drop the gun.
The security guard, a U.S. Marine veteran, then disarmed the man without incident and secured the weapon for law enforcement.
Amazingly, Kruse also revealed that this was the second rifle that her guard took from rioters.
Kruse released video of one of the rioters firing the stolen rifle before her guard disarmed him.
But later one when police investigators tried to gain access to all of the available news media footage of the arsons and gun theft that night, the local media organizations said no and refused to hand it over.
Seattle police subpoenaed The Seattle Times, KIRO, KING, KOMO, and KCPQ for their media materials from the night of the incident, The Seattle Times reported.
The judge ruled during a morning hearing on July 24 that the subpoena for the videos and pictures was in fact enforceable.
He said the news organizations were not covered by the Washington Shield Law that prevents law enforcement from getting copies of reporters’ unpublished materials, The Seattle Times reported.
Lee said the police had met the burden to overcome the shield law because the images they sought were “highly material and relevant” and “critical or necessary” with compelling public interest.
He found that figuring out who stole the weapons was a compelling public interest, The Seattle Times reported.
The judge also said the Seattle Police Department had proven that before they sought a subpoena, they had exhausted all other “reasonable and available means” of getting the information.
Lee placed limits on what law enforcement could do with the information they gleaned from the materials that were turned over.
Investigators may use the videos and pictures to identify suspects specifically for the arson and gun investigations, according to The Seattle Times.
The judge said the evidence discovered in the materials that points to vandalism and other lesser crimes may not be used to purse those suspects.
Also, Lee ruled that the subpoena only applied to the professional news cameras used by media organizations and would not let police use it to gain access to materials on reporters’ personal cell phones, The Seattle Times reported.
Michele Matassa Flores, executive editor of The Seattle Times, opposed the subpoena and said she “believes it puts our independence, and even our staff’s physical safety, at risk.”
“The media exist in large part to hold governments, including law enforcement agencies, accountable to the public,” Matassa Flores explained. “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.”
The five media outlets have not yet decided whether they will appeal the judge’s order, The Seattle Times reported.
Eric Stahl, an attorney for the media companies, argued on Thursday that law enforcement had cast too wide a net and had no proof that the materials they sought would actually lead them to the suspects.
“You have to have a strong reason to believe there is actually going to be critical evidence” in the images, Stahl said. “We think there was too much speculation going on.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington has said it also objected to the judge’s ruling, The Seattle Times reported.
The group said in a statement that it “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.”