Josh Wolf in jail

Pub date August 1, 2006
WriterG.W. Schulz

A federal judge has thrown video journalist Josh Wolf in jail for refusing to turn over material subpoenaed by a grand jury.

Judge William Alsup ordered Wolf incarcerated Tuesday afternoon, and denied bail, meaning Wolf could be stuck behind bars until either the grand jury finishes its investigation or Wolf chooses to turn over a video tape recorded during a demonstration last summer. Investigators believe footage from Wolf’s tape – material that was edited out before Wolf released the tape publicly — contains evidence of protestors torching a police car.

Wolf has maintained that no such evidence exists, but insists upon his right as a reporter to withhold the material from authorities.

An attorney from the National Lawyers Guild who’s been assisting Wolf with his case, Carlos Villarreal, told us just moments ago that while Judge Alsup seemed considerate of First Amendment concerns, “I think he made it clear he’s not very supportive [of] journalists. He gave the federal government a lot of leeway.”

Villarreal said Alsup argued that existing case law may extend to journalists who decline to testify in court in order to protect confidential sources, but it does not do the same for unpublished materials accumulated by journalists while reporting a story. Villarreal told us he believed the point of such protections was to allow journalists to build relationships of trust with their sources, which means material derived under those circumstances should be protected, too.

“[Alsup] basically said that he has to follow the law, and the law according to him is that a person who is not complying must be found in contempt,” Villarreal said. He added that around 40 states have shield laws designed to protect reporters, but at the federal level, only previous cases exist to guide judges on determining journalist’s privileges.

In addition to the National Lawyers Guild, Wolf has received assistance from the Society of Professional Journalists. The ACLU and the French organization Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press both filed amicus briefs on Wolf’s behalf.

The demonstration that led to the video footage took place in the Mission last summer, while the G8 summit was occurring in Scotland. Wolf himself said in a prepared statement released yesterday, “People protesting or on strike for better wages or marching for amnesty should feel free to do so in front of a journalist’s cameras, just as they should feel free to talk to journalists. A free press benefits all of us.”

Another attorney for Wolf, José Luis Fuentes, has pointed out that the San Francisco Police Department to date has not stepped forward with any description of damages or subsequent costs related to the allegedly vandalized cop car.