VA prosecutor, police seize newspaper photos
A Virginia prosecutor and at least seven police officers seized more than 900 unpublished photographs from the James Madison University student newspaper Friday morning, according to student editors at The Breeze.
Editor-in-Chief Katie Thisdell said Rockingham County Commonwealth Attorney Marsha Garst arrived at the newsroom Friday morning with a search warrant and threatened to seize all cameras, computers and other documents if the student staff did not release unpublished photographs from a block party last weekend that turned violent.
At least 17 people were arrested in connection with the party, which was documented by students and others in dozens of publicly available You Tube videos and photos posted on Facebook. Police had said they would study these videos and photos to find other potential suspects.
"It's not our responsibility as journalists to provide this information to the police," Thisdell said.
Rather than risk losing equipment needed to produce twice-weekly publication, Thisdell said, she showed the officers how to access the digital photos, which were copied onto a CD.
"Basically, I didn't have any other choice," she said. "We can't put out a newspaper without our equipment."
Garst could not be reached by phone at her office Friday evening and did not respond to an e-mail. A spokeswoman for the Harrisonburg police department referred all questions to Garst. A university spokesman said Friday evening confirmed the search but said he had no details.
Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a non profit group that offers legal advice to student journalists, said in a statement that he believed "the search likely" violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which he said prohibits searching a newsroom for unpublished information.
Thisdell said she provided Garst with a copy of the act Friday morning but the prosecutor continued with the search.
Typically, LoMonte said, prosecutors obtain a subpoena for wanted items and allow the media organization a reasonable amount of time to respond. There is also no urgency to obtaining the photographs, he said, especially because the student-police clash was documented in already published photos and public videos online.
"This isn't an ongoing hostage situation. We're talking about, essentially, a drunken fistfight that's in the past," LoMonte said. "This is one of the more outrageous cases I have seen lately."
UPDATED at 11:51 p.m. Not all of the officers were uniformed as was originally reported.
Follow Campus Overload all day, every day at http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload.
April 16, 2010; 9:12 PM ET
Categories: Campus Media | Tags: James Madison
Save & Share: Previous: Studying abroad? Get the full experience
Next: iPad too much for some campus networks
Posted by: kahlua87 | April 17, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mackmarks | April 17, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: 12008N1 | April 17, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: BigBubba1 | April 17, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: blasmaic | April 17, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.