Seattle media companies appeal police protest subpoena

SEATTLE (AP) — A group of news outlets has appealed to the Washington Supreme Court to block a Seattle Police Department subpoena pursuing unpublished images of protester activity.

The Seattle Times and four local television stations argued in the Tuesday filing that the images are protected by the state’s reporter shield law, and a King County Superior Court judge erred when ordering their release, The Seattle Times reported.

In Washington and most states journalists are shielded from law enforcement subpoenas, except for limited circumstances. The laws are an extension of the First Amendment, meant to guard against government interference in news gathering.

Under King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee’s ruling, the media companies must by Aug. 21 hand over raw and unpublished news photos and video footage from racial injustice protests in Seattle on May 30.

The Seattle Police Department says the images would help identify several people who set fire to five police vehicles and stole two police guns.

In Tuesday’s filings, the media companies skipped the Court of Appeals and directly asked the Supreme Court to halt enforcement of the subpoena until the appeal is resolved.

“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,” said Ray Rivera, managing editor of The Seattle Times.

American journalists have been attacked by both protesters and police across the country in recent months, including in Seattle. Demonstrators against police violence often fear their images will be used by law enforcement for retaliation.

Seattle police spokesperson Sgt. Lauren Truscott defended the subpoena in a Tuesday statement.

“Knowing too well the carnage that can be wrought by these firearms in our schools, our communities, and our homes should they fall into the wrong hands, SPD will not apologize for exercising its due diligence to use all means available under the law and through our courts to protect against such an outcome,” Truscott wrote.

In recent weeks the judge’s ruling came under fire from First Amendment groups, the ACLU, press organizations and members of the Seattle City Council, who asked City Attorney Pete Holmes to drop the subpoena.