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Reporter resigns over news director’s decision not to air tape

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         TEXAS         Prior Restraints         Nov 17, 2000    

Reporter resigns over news director’s decision not to air tape

  • After a judge released a video tape of prison guards subduing a prisoner to a television station, the news director did not air it for fear of influencing the jury pool.

A Corpus Christi television station’s decision not to broadcast a controversial videotape showing prison guards in an altercation with a prisoner has led to the resignation of the reporter who filed the original request for the tape.

After District Court Judge Robert Blackmon decided to release the tape on Nov. 16, KZTV-Channel 10 reporter Nicole Perez was shocked to find out that news director Walter Furley did not plan to run the footage on the evening news. Furley did not want to air the tape for fear it would influence potential jurors. The next morning Perez resigned from the Corpus Christi station.

“She felt I was completely in the wrong not to air the tape,” Furley said. “But she can’t claim we didn’t support her because we supported her all through the trial.”

On March 1, Perez filed an open records request for the tape from the sheriff’s department after two Nueces County prison guards were charged with aggravated assault and official oppression of a prisoner. The sheriff’s department asked the attorney general if the tape was a public record, but failed to supply a copy of the tape to the attorney general. As a result, the Texas law presumes the tape is a matter of public record. Furley did not want to air the tape, in part, because of the omission by the sheriff’s department.

“In spite of the fact that the sheriff’s department made those technical errors that made the tape available to us, I felt that not airing it would uphold the spirit of the law of the matter,” Furley said. “I think airing it would have contaminated the jury pool.”

“As I understand it, after we asked for the tape the sheriff’s department asked the attorney general for an opinion and then did not supply the proper credentials for the opinion,” he said. “So, the attorney general said that the sheriff’s office couldn’t deny access to the tape. But it would seem that the tape would be subject to influencing anyone who saw it.”

After the sheriff’s department released the tape to KZTV, the district attorney’s office filed a motion to recover the tape, claiming the release would interfere with the trial of the guards scheduled to begin in January. Blackmon ordered the station to return the tape to the court and prohibited any broadcast of the tape.

The station’s attorney, Jorge Rangel, immediately asked the court to vacate the recovery order and filed a 20-page memo detailing the improper prior restraint. After hearing the broadcaster’s case on Nov. 16, the judge recanted his previous order and ruled that the First Amendment would not allow such a prior restraint on broadcasting the tape. The judge turned the videotape over to the station’s attorney in open court. However, Furley, the news director, said he will wait to air the tape after a jury is selected.

(Texas v. Charles Kaufman; Media Counsel Jorge Rangel, Corpus Christi) CC

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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