Wolf freed!

Pub date April 3, 2007
WriterSarah Phelan

After spending more than seven months in prison for refusing to give a federal grand jury video outtakes of a 2005 anarchist protest, freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf’s is today being released. According to one of Wolf’s lawyers, David Greene of the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, Wolf won’t have to testify to the grand jury or identify protesters shown in his video, which has now been posted at his Web site, www.joshwolf.net/blog.

The deal was announced the day after a second three-hour mediation session before a federal magistrate in San Francisco. The 24-year-old Wolf has been held in contempt of court by a federal judge since August 2006 and has been imprisoned longer than any other journalist in U.S. history for withholding information. He is reportedly being picked up from the federal correctional facility in Dublin this afternoon and will appear on the steps of San Francisco City Hall at 5 p.m.

Greene said that the April 3 breakthrough occurred when federal prosecutors dropped their insistence that Wolf testify to the grand jury about people he interviewed for his video. Greene said Wolf was prepared to turn over the outtakes last November if he’d been excused from testifying but prosecutors refused.

In an April 3 press release, Greene wrote, “For the last several months, this (dispute) has been principally about the testimony and not about the video. The only reason he decided to publish (the video) now was their assurances that they would not require his testimony.”

Greene said prosecutors required only that Wolf answer two questions under oath, in writing: whether he ever saw anyone throw or shoot any object at a police car or learned about anyone who did so, and whether he knew who Officer Peter Shields was trying to arrest when he was hit from behind and suffered a fractured skull. Wolf answered no to both questions in a court filing today.

In a separate filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffery Finigan said Wolf has complied with the grand jury subpoena and should be released from prison. Finigan also noted the government has reserved the right to issue a new subpoena to Wolf in the future.

“I think his sacrifice of his personal liberty for 226 days for the sake of a principle that was for something much larger than him personally was really commendable,” Greene said.

Rick Knee of the National Writers Union say his group believes that, “Josh’s persecution at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco, federal prosecutor Jeffrey Finigan, the federal grand jury and U.S. District Judge William Alsup was morally and ethically reprehensible, and an egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars.”