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D.A. confiscates tape minutes before broadcast

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  1. Prior Restraint
D.A. confiscates tape minutes before broadcast10/23/95 LOUISIANA--Just minutes before a television station prepared to broadcast a videotape of four black…

D.A. confiscates tape minutes before broadcast


LOUISIANA–Just minutes before a television station prepared to broadcast a videotape of four black students beating a white student on a school bus, two officials from the Terrebonne Parish district attorney’s office arrived at the station and confiscated the tape in mid-August. Eight weeks after the seizure, the D.A.’s office still refuses to return the tape to the station.

District Attorney Douglas Greenburg issued a subpoena for the videotape after recharging Donald Mart, one of the youths involved in the beating, with aggravated battery.

Greenburg has argued that the videotape is evidence in the new criminal proceeding and should not be aired on television because it will jeopardize Mart’s rights to a fair trial and inflame racial tensions in the city. Mart earlier pleaded guilty to simple assault as part of a plea bargain and contends that Greenburg’s new charges should be dismissed because they constitute double jeopardy.

The television station, HTV in Houma, La., obtained the videotape through a routine public records request to the sheriff’s office in mid-August. When the sheriff’s office gave the tape to HTV, it was unaware that Mart had been recharged in the beating and thought the case had been closed, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Martin Folse, owner of HTV, said that two officials from the district attorney’s office arrived with a subpoena and ordered the tape handed over to them just minutes before it was to have been aired.

HTV turned over the tape to the officials instead of broadcasting it on its news program as planned. The television station filed a motion in Terrebonne Parish District Court in Houma in mid-August to recover the videotape, but the court had taken no action as of mid- October.

The videotape, taken from a security camera on the bus, shows four black teenagers beating and kicking a white teenager, according to Folse, who has viewed the tape. Mart appears to be beating the white student with fists and a broomstick on the videotape, Folse said.

Greenburg called HTV’s attempt at broadcasting the videotape “a reckless, insensitive, and highly dangerous undertaking,” according to The Wall Street Journal. (HTV v. Greenburg; Media Counsel: Joe Waitz, Jr., Houma, La.)