Local Blogger Josh Wolf Jailed for Mission Protest Video

joshinaction.jpg

Yesterday local indy media blogger Josh Wolf was put in jail for refusing to hand over a video to the federal government that he shot at last summer’s G8 protest in the Mission District. This is the the first instance in which a blogger has been pursued and eventually jailed by federal authorities. Josh was at the protest shooting video to blog — as he feels the same as many of us, that corporate media is tired and dying, and it’s up to us citizens to go out and record the world around us. The protest got out of hand, as protests sometimes do, and fireworks were set off, and a police officer was hit in the head. But after Josh posted part of the video he shot on his blog, the feds showed up *at his house*, demanding the entire tape and not saying why — but that because Josh’s video contained federal property in it, they had a right to it.

Josh refused, and in his incredible presentation I saw at Vloggercon 2006, explained that he was concerned about the feds’ intentions — worried that they might be indiscriminately compiling antiwar, “terrorist” group lists. Josh is 24, and a friend. So now… shoot a video locally and go to jail? Our lame-duck SFGate has its head stuck up its ass because they’re defending the mainstream media with an article the totally sidesteps the story (ha!), but CNet is on it.

Snip with background details from excellent SF Weekly article in May:

“Back at the car, Shields attempted to arrest someone lighting fireworks under the vehicle, igniting the foam underneath. Another protester then struck Shields from behind. By the time Officer Wolf returned to the vehicle, his partner was bleeding profusely from the head, the victim of a fractured skull.

Local law enforcement has charged three protesters with misdemeanors. The federal government now seeks justice on behalf of Shields, as well as investigating the damage to his vehicle.

Because he was videotaping Officer Wolf at the time, it’s improbable that Josh Wolf’s tape also contains footage of Shields being hit on the head or of fireworks being placed under the patrol vehicle. The Justice Department is likely looking for something else that may be on his tape, though they won’t divulge what that something is.

Wolf doesn’t want to give up the complete, unedited version of the tape. He believes the federal government is indiscriminately monitoring antiwar groups under suspicion of terrorism, and as a journalist he shouldn’t be forced to surrender unused footage in support of that investigation. He won’t say, though, what’s on the 15 or more minutes of the confidential portion of video.”

Follow Josh’s story at Independent Media News. This affects *all of us*. Josh’s site is down, but keep checking for his court documents here. Photo of Josh in action via burningdove.

32 Comments so far

  1. cd (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

    I thought the Chron article from today (which I didn’t find favored MSM over him) said he had said there wasn’t anything on that tape that showed the identity of the possible arsonist.

    I can’t help but think of the murder case awhile back where the man on trial swore it was impossible for him to have killed the victim because he was at a baseball game. He had no proof, was with no one, couldn’t show it. But turns out an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm was being filmed a few rows in front of him and the defense wrangled the non-aired footage and – look – there’s the guy, at a game, and he’s saved from an unfair future in jail.

    I’m not saying these are analogous situations – but I do think this one is different from either Judith Miller or the Apple v. Does case that EFF has been battling on for so long now. A video is far different from a reporter’s notes and impressions or a reporter’s confidential source list.

    And it wasn’t just any war protest . . . .


  2. Joe (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 5:58 pm

    They want to know who FRACTURED A COP’S SKULL. Methinks Josh is being a bit paranoid.


  3. Comment (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 6:16 pm

    I’m a big fan of compromise. He should offer to let an independent third party review all the footage & disclose whether there is any footage relevant to the actual assault issue. If there isn’t, he should not have to release footage. If there is, I would say they have a legitimate interest in getting that piece of footage released, and Josh should too.


  4. Max (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 6:42 pm

    C’mon – he’s hindering a police investigation!

    You Americans take this whole freedom of speech thing way to far sometimes.

    You mention that “He believes the federal government is indiscriminately monitoring antiwar groups under suspicion of terrorism, and as a journalist he shouldn’t be forced to surrender unused footage in support of that investigation.”

    It’s attitudes like this that potentially lead to acts of terrorism occuring. IMHO the police have EVERY right to the footage – it’s not like they’re going to release it commercially or blog it – so he’s not likely to be ‘scooped’ by the police.


  5. Kevin Burton (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

    Wow… this is horrible. This is a issue near and dear to my heart so I’m going to plan on helping Josh out as much as I can.

    I have to run out the door now and go to a friends bday party but a lot of people are vloggerconers so I’m goign to bring this situation up with them too (bringing my laptop).

    I’m going to try to figure out what’s going on here…

    Kevin


  6. Kevin Burton (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 7:23 pm

    “They want to know who FRACTURED A COP’S SKULL. Methinks Josh is being a bit paranoid.”

    Uh…. dude. what country do you live in? We live in the US where the govt spies on all our phone calls!

    I think we have the right to be paranoid.

    The problem is that if the police are legitimately trying to prosecure the protester who injured the officer then Josh is at fault.

    This is a tough one…


  7. bob (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 7:57 pm

    Sorry for those of you who are friends with this guy, but he really seems to be digging his own grave. Unfortunately I think it is more than likely that he has a video of whomeever hit the cop or set fire to the copcar and he doesnt want this person prosecuted.
    Being in jail is his choice – turn over the tape and he gets released.


  8. analog.pidgin (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 8:48 pm

    I’m really sorry for your friend, but I’m going to have to come down on the “hindering an investigation” side of this argument. Called as a witness in a grand jury investigation he has to testify — and the only way out I can see is if he has a further 5th amendment claim of self-incrimination, and he plead the 5th in court.

    It’s probably better that he be out of jail to investigate his claim that the gov’t is building this anti-terror list. He also should have made several copies of that tape just in case its confiscation resulted in that footage disappearing, so he can still fulfill his role as a disseminator of news. I think We Americans aren’t paranoid enough.


  9. rob (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 9:15 pm

    You need to review Zurcher v. Stanford Daily (1978) and subsequent Supreme Court decisions pertaining to this type of situation. While unfortunate, this type of police seizure is well protected by the law.


  10. violet (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 9:41 pm

    keep in mind that Josh was filming the officer’s partner at the time the skull fracture happened, from the weekly article:

    “Because he was videotaping Officer Wolf at the time, it’s improbable that Josh Wolf’s tape also contains footage of Shields being hit on the head or of fireworks being placed under the patrol vehicle. The Justice Department is likely looking for something else that may be on his tape, though they won’t divulge what that something is.”

    there are more questions than answers here, but the fact that Josh is imprisoned for not turning over his tape is frightening. these questions are important:

    * if it’s for local prosecution, then why is it being persued on the federal level in federal court, where there are no protections for journalists (no sheild law)?
    * why are the feds involved?
    * what tactics did the federal government’s representatives use to try and get the video from Josh?
    * is all video footage that includes federal property — the reason the feds gave when demanding the video at Josh’s house — (like freeways) now subject to the FBI’s demands with imprisonment as the punishment for not surrendering your media?
    * do you really think something like this protects us, as citizens, from anything?

    I don’t.


  11. Sane-in-SF (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 9:54 pm

    God, you people need to take your tinfoil hats off. As if you guys are important enough for the government to “spy on.”

    Geez. Get over yourselves.


  12. Gershom (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 10:50 pm

    I suspect that Josh was jailed for failing to comply with a federal grand jury supeona; this is a federal investigation, it is not for him to decide what is relevant and what is not. He was present and video taping at the scene of an arson, and the assault of a law enforcement officer, he has to give up the tape.


  13. Made in DNA (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

    Pubic duty and responsibility are a fairly nasty double-edged sword. Josh felt it wass his right to go out and film a protest and share it with the world. He’s right. But it’s also his duty to report the crimes committed during that time that he either willingly or unwillingly filmed.

    To the anonymous poster of the “Americans” comment: while you are certainly entitled to your opinion — as it IS protected by U.S. law (you are welcome) — it’s mighty shallow considering I’ll bet you could find persons in your own country who feel they same way as us “Americans”, whether they are entitled to the same privilages as we are or not.


  14. Robert (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 12:38 am

    C’mon — Josh isn’t REALLY a “journalist”. Journalists have a professional responsibility to be objective. Josh is just an anarchist pundit who happens to write his views in a podunk newspaper, and shoots video. And his views–as can be seen on his “43Things” page and elsewhere–are devoted to “smashing the state” and “telling Bush he’s an asshole”. This isn’t the behavior of a journalist; it’s a naive 24 year-old guy.

    If the video he shot happened to have incriminating evidence of police brutality, and an agency asked to use it to build a case against the cops, you can bet Josh would hand it over. The only reason he hasn’t turned this tape over is because he sides with the anarchist vandals who torched the cop car and generally ran amok through the Mission. He should at least be honest enough to admit it, and we should be honest enough to call political posturing what it is.


  15. HJ (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 4:50 am

    “While unfortunate, this type of police seizure is well protected by the law.”

    Rob -> As a former photo editor for The Stanford Daily, I know a bit about Zurcher. Your statement would have been correct after the SCOTUS decision in 1978. It is not correct now.

    Two years after Zurcher, Congress passed the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, specifically in response to the issues arising from that case. The PPA explicitly prohibits the type of evidentiary seizure discussed here, with a small number of exceptions that do not apply in this case (prevention of serious injury — inapplicable because the injury to the officer had already occurred; and indictment of the person who possesses the material in question for having committed a crime in the process of obtaining it — inapplicable because that is not being alleged here, as far as I can tell).

    Thus it appears, at least initially, that the strongarm tactics being employed by the Feds here specifically contravene the PPA.

    More info on the Act is here:

    http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2003/1/21/commemoratingAHistoricSupremeCourtCase

    http://www.epic.org/privacy/ppa/

    http://www.cybertelecom.org/privacy/ppa.htm

    http://www.splc.org/legalresearch.asp?id=89

    http://www.studentpress.org/acp/trends/~law0201college.html


  16. Mango (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 6:48 am

    I wonder would the cops have been so insistent on seeing the Rodney King videotape…


  17. Paul (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 7:41 am

    Um, OK, he was filming the Officer Wolf, so he didn’t film the attack on Officer Shields. But no one seems to realize that this means the film is proof for many people that they did NOT attack Shields. You know, using deduction to solve a problem?

    The suggestion above about using a third party sounds like an approporiate counterproposal (as opposed to “Here’s the tape” or “You’ll have to pry it out of my cold, dead fingers”). Also, has he talked to a lawyer to see if he has a leg to stand on?


  18. anahit (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 9:57 am

    There’s likely an outstanding subpeona for the video. He’s not complying with it. He, like anyone in that situation, can be jailed for contempt.

    Whether he’s a journalist or not doesn’t matter. Journalists with subpeonaed evidence of federal crimes are required to hand the evidence over. Freedom of the Press does them no good here. A non-journalist is required to hand it over as well. [Freedom of the Press means next to nothing constitutionally but that’s another post.]

    But don’t take my legal word for it. Anyone remember Judith Miller?


  19. icanreadcanu (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 10:45 am

    >> you people need to take your tinfoil hats
    >> off. As if you guys are important enough
    >> for the government to “spy on.””

    Actually, it recently came out that the spying against anti-war groups is SO intense that police infiltrators had been elected to lead several demonstrations last year in SF. Every heard of cointelpro, you ingnorant little traitor?


  20. ToastyKen (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

    I don’t know why you think the Chronicle has its head stuck up its ass.. That article you linked to sounded pretty reasonable to me; I don’t see how it was “defending mainstream media”. Not only that, the Chronicle has even now published an editorial called Free Josh Wolf, which contains the sentence, “But the First Amendment was not crafted just to protect the mainstream media.”


  21. ToastyKen (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 2:08 pm

    Plus, your “CNet” link is actually an NYTimes reprint (see the byline). The NYTimes story is here.


  22. quaeler (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

    Yes, i think in this era we all need to be a bit more ear-pricked about where the government is trying to overstep bounds – but this case isn’t at all it.

    It’s a federal subpoena for video / audio materials, and media sources get them all the time ( http://www.rcfp.org/ has periodically published data at least since the early 1980s ) – this action is neither jackbooted nor egregious (and I write this being no big fan at all of recent changes in governmental policy).


  23. anna (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

    I’m kind of late to this whole discussion but feel the need to contribute…
    – what’s his day job? Is freelance journalism his day job? It’s hard for me to imagine claiming journalistic protection as a blogger. It’s a fine line, I guess, between the two. Why is he seeking bail now, and didn’t try earlier (from NYT article)? I’m wondering if, at his ripe young age, he’s popularizing his cause by becoming a martyr. That’s just the jaded person in me.
    – I think the officer that got hurt and it was videotaped, he has every right to see it, and to pursue that. I mean, if it happened to you, you’d want to see it, right?
    – I can’t believe he’s in jail over this. That just seems draconian and over the top.


  24. anna (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 3:25 pm

    This post: Saheli’s, helped me at least, understand some of the journalistic aspects of Ken’s case:
    http://ssrdatta.blogspot.com/2006/08/josh-wolf-in-jail-er-i-just-found-out.html
    (via ToastyKen’s entry: http://subjunctive.net/klog/)


  25. sleeper (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 4:35 pm

    If it was Grandma Jones who owned the car that was potentially set aflame and then had her head injured during the protest, would Josh still withhold the video? Would people still cry:

    -“So now… shoot a video locally and go to jail?”
    -“Wow… this is horrible. This is a issue near and dear to my heart so I’m going to plan on helping Josh out as much as I can.”
    -“do you really think something like this protects us, as citizens, from anything?”

    No. Josh is not being a martyr. He’s acting like a two year old who recently discovered the effect of saying “no” to his parents.

    And to the few selfish “protesters” who act like idiots and cry babies, quit ruining for everyone else.


  26. Mojo (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 10:13 pm

    He does not legally have to turn over the tape. It’s as simple as that. The police say it’s to check and see if the person who committed the arson is seen on the tape, and Josh says he isn’t. End of story.

    Why is this hard for you to accept? Why do all of you SF metblog readers have such a hate boner for protesters?


  27. anahit (unregistered) on August 3rd, 2006 @ 11:22 pm

    Mojo, thanks for clearing up the legal issues regarding the tape.


  28. Sane-in-SF (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 1:02 pm

    “Mojo, thanks for clearing up the legal issues regarding the tape.”

    Uh, just because you read it on the Internet, it must be true?


  29. anahit (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

    Sane, I read on the InterWeb that your sarcasm meter is broken.

    As my prior post stated, if there’s a subpoena (which there likely is but I haven’t heard definitively) he has to cough up the video or the judge can jail him for contempt. I should also note that the PPA generally doesn’t protect journalists where a subpoena has been issued for the evidence in question.

    And that, Sane, is something you can read on the InterWeb that’s actually true.


  30. SF 49ers Blog (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 3:58 pm

    Can’t he view it w/ the police & if it has evidence, let them have it and keep a copy?


  31. HJ (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 1:51 am

    Anahit -> You’re absolutely right, and my earlier post should have clarified this point. At the time I posted, I didn’t see that this all happened only after a subpoena had been issued (neither the SFGate story, nor the writeup on rfcp.org, nor any of the comments posted before mine mentioned a subpoena, and I simply missed it in the CNet article).

    Whether or not such a subpoena should have been issued in the first place, especially given the gaping divergence between California’s reporter shield law and the lack of anything even remotely equivalent at the Federal level, is another matter altogether.


  32. ToastyKen (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 2:16 am

    HJ, exactly.. IANAL, but as far as I can tell, he doesn’t have that much of a case, legally, at the federal level, any more than Judith Miller did, whereas things would be different if this were state court.

    And, of course, the fact that this is in federal court at all is an issue of contention. As the NYTimes story pointed out, the SF Board of Supervisors has actually formally complained about federal involvement. The excuse the gov’t gave is that the SFPD receives federal funding, so the feds can take jurisdiction. That might also be technically legal, but it’s certainly a slippery slope!

    One example my friend pointed out to me is: Many colleges receive some federal funding. So then if a crime is committed on campus, and someone was videotaping nearby, taping something other than the crime, should the federal gov’t then have the right to subpoena that footage?



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