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Media outlets ask state Supreme Court to intervene in SPD subpoena for protest footage

A late-May protest in Seattle. (Getty Images)

After being ordered to turn raw video footage taken during a late-May protest over to the Seattle Police Department, a handful of media outlets are calling on the Supreme Court of Washington State to intervene.

Judge grants pause on SPD subpoena for media footage of protest

Ruling on a subpoena from the SPD to identify suspects in an arson and a firearm theft, King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee gave the Seattle Times, KING 5, KIRO 7, KOMO, and Q13 until Aug. 21 to hand over their footage.

News organizations included in the subpoena claim that it would set a dangerous precedent for the freedom of members of the media covering protests. The SPD argued in its subpoena that the limited scope of its request — to investigate just that pair of crimes — mitigates larger concerns that the footage could be used to target other demonstrators.

A Tuesday filing from the media outlets asks the state Supreme Court to put a pause on Judge Lee’s ruling until the case is resolved in a lower appeals court.

“We’re hopeful the state Supreme Court will recognize the harm this subpoena poses for all journalists and news organizations in Washington, and to the public in general,” Seattle Times Managing Editor Ray Rivera said.

Local leaders, the ACLU, and others have been critical of the subpoena in recent weeks, citing concerns that it blurs the line between law enforcement and members of the media.

“Journalists are not part of the police machine,” Society of Professional Journalists’ President Patricia Gallagher Newberry told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show in late-July. “Journalism has never existed to assist law enforcement in bringing their investigations to a close. It really is quite unusual for the police department to be seeking these materials.”

Seattle city councilmembers also spoke out during a council briefing in late July.

“It is abhorrent that our city continues to push for members of the press to hand over video and photos of people participating in their First Amendment rights,” Mosqueda said. “This is not appropriate, [and] it is, I believe, a violation of the rights of journalists.”

Councilmember: SPD compelling media to hand over footage is ‘abhorrent’

“I, too, feel that the city’s legal position puts the media at great risk, and has an unacceptable and chilling effect on their efforts to hold government accountable,” Herbold agreed. “The media is not an extension of government, period.”

The SPD has insisted that it has “followed the exact process that is prescribed by state law for precisely this type of situation,” according to a statement issued to the Seattle Times.

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