A Seattle Judge Is Allowing Police To Subpoena Protest Footage For Arson & Theft Investigation

A judge has ordered that five news outlets, including The Seattle Times, will have to hand over any unpublished video and photos from a May 30th racial justice protest to the Seattle Police Department.

The protests were in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

On Thursday, King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee ruled that a subpoena brought about by the Seattle PD to obtain photos and videos was enforceable, as the evidence was critical for an arson and police gun theft investigation.

While Lee said that the news organizations were not protected by the state law, which blocks authorities from obtaining unpublished materials from reporters, the judge did place several restrictions on the subpoena. For one, he said that law enforcement could use the images to identify suspects only in the arson and gun theft investigations. Detectives are not permitted to use the photos or video to pursue suspects in vandalism or other lesser crimes. The subpoena also prohibited reported cell phone footage. Only professional images can be utilized.

SPD detective Michael Magan testified at Thursday’s hearing that the department was at a dead-end in its investigation into who set six SPD vehicles on fire and stole a loaded Glock 43 semi-automatic pistol and a loaded Colt M4 carbine rifle with a suppressor belonging to police officers.

So far, two suspects have been arrested stemming from the thefts and arson, and others have been partially identified.

However, not everyone believes that law enforcement needs the images to complete their investigation.

“The media exist in large part to hold governments, including law enforcement agencies, accountable to the public,” said Seattle Times Executive Editor Michele Matassa Flores. “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.”

Eric Stahl, the lawyer who is representing the media companies, argued on Thursday that the police couldn’t show that the images would positively identify the suspects.

“You have to have a strong reason to believe there is actually going to be critical evidence” in the images, Stahl said after the hearing. “We think there was too much speculation going on.”

The Seattle Times and TV stations KIRO 7, KING 5, KOMO 4, and KCPQ 13 were all subpoenaed.

Seattle Police Department
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