Many of the perpetrators escaped arrest. But the Seattle Police Department had an idea how to try to find them: They demanded all the images shot that day by journalists on the scene.
On Thursday, King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee ordered five news organizations to turn over the unpublished material, a decision that Times’s editors warned would gravely endanger reporters covering other protests.
“The media exist in large part to hold governments, including law enforcement agencies, accountable to the public,” Michele Matassa Flores, the Times’s executive editor, told the paper. “We don’t work in concert with government, and it’s important to our credibility and effectiveness to retain our independence from those we cover.”
Brian Esler, an attorney representing the police department, did not immediately return a message from The Washington Post on Thursday night.
The demonstrations in downtown Seattle on May 30 turned particularly destructive. Hundreds of peaceful protesters marched five days after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, shutting down Interstate 5 and then taking a stage downtown to denounce police violence.
But at the same time, another group looted stores, launched fireworks at police and threw molotov cocktails. Five police cars were set on fire, and the vandals stole equipment, including tactical helmets and at least two guns that are still missing, the Times reported.
Police later sent subpoenas to the Times and local stations KIRO, KOMO, KING, and KCPQ demanding all images shot over a 90-minute span in a four-block area downtown. In court, the department argued the raw footage “may be the best evidence available to identify” the suspects.
The request could significantly harm journalists, the Times argued, at a time when reporters already face violence and distrust from protesters. One Times photographer was hit in the head with a rock thrown by a protester and punched in the face by another…