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Police seize photographer's film from store, subpoena newspapers

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Police seize photographer's film from store, subpoena newspapers 04/19/99

Police seize photographer’s film from store, subpoena newspapers


MICHIGAN–In the wake of street gatherings that turned violent at Michigan State University after the school’s NCAA basketball tournament loss to Duke in late March, police in East Lansing seized a freelance photographer’s film from a department store photo processing lab, and a county prosecutor in Lansing subpoenaed 19 news organizations for unpublished photographs and videotape that might identify rioters and expedite the prosecution of those rioters.

Only two subpoenaed news organizations — the Lansing State Journal and WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids — initially objected to Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings’ demands for photographs and videotape, according to Associated Press reports. Despite the objection, in early April a state trial judge in East Lansing ordered the State Journal to comply with the subpoena.

In enforcing the subpoena against the State Journal, Judge David Jordan said the Michigan shield law, which provides an absolute privilege against disclosure of the identities of confidential sources, was not applicable because no confidential informants are involved when photographs are taken at a public gathering.

The week after Jordan ordered the State Journal to turn over unpublished photographs, he ordered two more newspapers and eight television stations to provide Dunnings with unpublished photographs and video of the riots. Jordan’s most recent ruling affects Michigan State University’s student newspaper, The State News, along with the Detroit Free Press and television stations in Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Omandaga, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

In late March, East Lansing police officers seized eight rolls of film from the photo processing counter at a Meijer department store. Store employees had notified police about the film after noticing that the film chronicled the riots and could be used to identify individuals who participated in the riots.

Five of the eight rolls of film taken from Meijer by police belonged to Michigan State student and Associated Press freelance photographer David McCreery. Police seized the film from the store without notifying McCreery.

Police have posted photographs obtained from the journalists on the Internet and asked people to come forward and identify the individuals pictured so that they can be prosecuted for various crimes related to the destruction of property and public disturbances. As of early April, police had arrested 27 individuals involved in the riots, according to the Associated Press. (Counsel for the Lansing State Journal: Charles Barbieri, Lansing)