Judge orders Seattle news outlets to turn over unpublished images of riots to police

A judge in King County has ordered five news organizations to turn over videos and photos to police to help authorities identify people involved in rioting back in May.

King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee sided with the Police Department in a morning hearing, ruling that its subpoena was enforceable. He found that the photos and video were critical for an investigation into the alleged arson of SPD vehicles and theft of police guns…

The judge placed some limits on the subpoena. He said police could use the images to identify suspects only in the arson and gun theft investigations. Detectives could not use the photos or video to pursue suspects in vandalism or other lesser crimes — even if police found such evidence.

On May 30 several police vehicles were set on fire and police equipment, including weapons, was stolen:

During the protests, vandals heavily damaged six police vehicles. They smashed windows, removed ballistic helmets, uniforms, emergency medical equipment and fire extinguishers, and used an accelerant to start fires in five vehicles, according to a police affidavit and other documents.

A loaded Glock 43 semi-automatic pistol and a loaded Colt M4 carbine rifle with a suppressor remain missing, according to the SPD affidavit.

A total of 5 weapons were stolen from the vehicles that day, but three of them were recovered. You may recall video of one of the guns being recovered by a security guard who saw a protester take it and intervened to get it back:

Last month the FBI identified and arrested a woman believed responsible for torching five of the police vehicles. Her name is Margaret Channon and she has been charged with five counts of arson. As you can see in this clip, authorities used photographs showing some distinctive tattoos to identify her.

The Seattle Times is one of the organizations ordered to turn over images. The paper strongly opposed the subpoena on the grounds that this could make reporters the targets of more violence by protesters who are eager to avoid being identified:

The media outlets, as well an amicus brief submitted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, also outline another major objection. They say that granting the subpoena could foster a public impression that journalists are an investigative arm of law enforcement, which could lead to physical harassment when they cover protests.

“Recent examples of violence against journalists covering protests demonstrate that these concerns are well founded,” stated the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filing, which noted that a journalist covering a May gathering outside a Tucson, Arizona, police station was punched, pushed and kicked by protesters who stated he was “with the police.”

Danny Gawlowski, a Seattle Times assistant managing editor, said in a declaration submitted to the court that one Times photographer was punched in the face by a protester. His statement said that newspaper staff have repeatedly had to explain to protesters that they are independent, and those assurances are instrumental to safely and accurately reporting the news.

I think they have a point here. Antifa goons already attack anyone with a camera. This decision will only prove to them that any professional reporter with a camera is potentially helping the police. So I suspect in future the black bloc are going to be more aggressive about going after local news cameras.

While I don’t want to see any journalists get hurt for doing their jobs, part of me does wonder if a few more smashed cameras might finally convince some in the national media that the thugs breaking things in Seattle and elsewhere aren’t the good guys.