Seattle Journalists Condemn Court Order to Hand Cops Their Protest Photos

Seattle journalists have condemned a court decision ordering news outlets in the state to hand images and videos of protesters involved in a May demonstration in the wake of George Floyd's death over to police.

On Thursday, a King County Superior court judge ruled that five news outlets—The Seattle Times and TV stations KIRO 7, KOMO 4, KING 5 and KCPQ 13—would have to comply with a subpoena and turn photos of protesters involved in a May 30 demonstration that turned violent over to the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee said he agreed with the police department that that news outlets' photos and videos could aid in the arrest of those behind the alleged arson of SPD vehicles, as well as the theft of police guns. He further said he believed the subpoena for those items could and would be enforced.

While the judge did put some limitations on the subpoena, ruling that police could only use the images to identify suspects as part of the investigations into the alleged arson and gun theft incidents and excluding access to reporters' cell phone photos and videos, the decision was met with backlash from journalists across the state.

Lewis Kamb, watchdog reporter for The Seattle Times, warned that the order put "free press in jeopardy" in a tweet.

Meanwhile, the paper's executive editor, Michele Matassa Flores, spoke out in strong opposition to the order, asserting that "puts our independence, and even our staff's physical safety, at risk."

"The media exist in large part to hold governments, including law enforcement agencies, accountable to the public," Matassa Flores said in a statement. "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."

Flores said her paper was discussing whether to appeal the decision. Newsweek has contacted Flores for further comment.

Essex Porter, a politics reporter for KIRO 7 agreed, tweeting: "This ruling puts journalists covering protests in more danger."

Simone Del Rosario, a correspondent for Q13 Fox Seattle also warned that the ruling was a "dangerous decision for press freedom" that puts journalists' "safety at risk."

"We are not your investigative tool," Del Rosario said.

Journalists from outside Seattle were quick to condemn the ruling as well, with Mike Baker, a New York Times correspondent who has been covering unrest in Portland, calling the court order "terrifying."

"A terrifying court ruling here: A judge in Seattle has ordered that media outlets must turn over images and footage from the George Floyd protests on May 30, so that police can investigate possible crimes," he wrote.

Newsweek has contacted Seattle journalists for further comment.

Law enforcement from the King County Sheriffs Department guard the city streets during protests on May 30, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Protests held in response to George Floyd's death saw police vehicles set on fire. Karen Ducey/Getty