September 02, 2006

Jailed Journalist Granted Bail After 31 Days

by Dan Noyes
I-Team Exclusive Jailhouse Interview
Sep. 1 - KGO -
We have a major development in the battle between federal prosecutors investigating a violent protest in San Francisco and a reporter's ability to bring you the news.

A freelance journalist walked out of the federal penitentiary in Dublin Friday on bail. He's still facing civil contempt for refusing to turn over his video of the protest last summer.

This case has received a lot of attention from across the country for its potential impact on a journalist's ability to gather the news. Much of what's been said isn't quite accurate, so we've been pouring through the court documents and evidence to get at the truth.

Josh Wolf was relieved to get out of the federal prison in Dublin after 31 long days.

Josh Wolf, freelance journalist: "It feels great to be a free man again. Dublin never looked so good which is a strange thing to say."

But, the 24-year-old freelance journalist is still facing civil contempt for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury.

Wolf has made a living documenting the anti-war and anarchist movements, selling video to local TV stations, including ABC7, and posting it on his Web site.

And, there he was again on July 8th of last year.

Many of the protestors wore masks as they marched in San Francisco against the G-8 Summit of world leaders. They blocked streets with newsstands, broke store windows and battled with police.

As a different officer tried to make an arrest, a protestor clubbed him on the head causing a three-inch gash. As a result, Police Chief Heather Fong came under fire from her own officers for letting the demonstration get out of control.

Heather Fong, San Francisco police chief: "The safety of the men and women who put their lives on the line on the street on a daily basis is very important to me as chief."

Court documents show this became a federal case when the San Francisco police called in the FBI and the joint terrorism task force.

Then, the U.S. Attorney took it to the grand jury.

The justification? A federal statute against the arson or attempted arson of a vehicle from an organization that receives federal funding.

Luke MaCauley, U.S. attorney's office spokesman: "We have an obligation to the community to find out and investigate this crime and see what, if any, crimes were committed."

But there were no flames -- no remnants of a Molotov cocktail -- just fireworks. Wolf's video shows one in the street, and officers wrote in their reports that a protestor tried to shoot a bottle rocket at them.

The damage report on the squad car in question -- number 1139 -- mentions no burn damage, only a broken tail light.

Peter Scheer is executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.

Peter Scheer, California First Amendment Coalition: "When you start looking at the justification, the basis for federal involvement, for federal jurisdiction, it looks pretty slim."

ABC7's Dan Noyes: "What makes you think that someone tried to set the car on fire?"

Luke MaCauley, U.S. attorney's office spokesman: "The, I can't comment too specifically on the investigation. What I can tell you is that we have enough, we have, we are, we have an obligation to seek any evidence we can."

The grand jury demanded Josh Wolf's outtakes, not just the edited video he released to the mainstream media. He refused and went to prison.

Josh Wolf, freelance journalist: "I don't want to be an investigator for the state, I'm a journalist, not an FBI agent."

Wolf and his lawyers believe federal prosecutors got involved as a way to circumvent California's Shield Law. It's actually part of the state constitution that a reporter cannot "be adjudged in contempt ... For refusing to disclose any unpublished information." There are no such protections under federal law.

Dan Siegel, attorney for Josh Wolf: "To me, a free press means a press that does not have to worry about government investigations, does not have to worry about reporters being dragged in front of grand juries and threatened with jail for reporting the news."

Wolf's attorneys accuse federal prosecutors of using the San Francisco protest to seek out information on radical underground activists, who've carried out firebombings and other vandalism across the country.

During his month in prison, Wolf received the support of several reporters' groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists. They've been donating to his defense.

The I-Team spoke with his mother at one event last month.

Liz Wolf-Spada, Josh Wolf's mother: "I really didn't realize that I was raising a child who would go to jail for his beliefs, but I am proud. I'm worried, of course, as a mom, but I'm proud of him for taking a principled stand and doing what he thinks is right."

Now that's he's out of prison, dozens of Wolf's supporters met him Friday afternoon on the steps of the next battleground -- the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Josh Wolf, freelance journalist: "It's an honor that I've been given an opportunity to help ignite what I hope will eventually cement the rights of both independent and established media."

The panel of judges are expected to rule on Wolf's appeal of the contempt order as early as next week.

This case has more twists and turns. To learn about those, read Dan Noyes' I-Team blog. We've also posted our exclusive unedited jailhouse interview with Josh Wolf (approximately 17 minutes long) -- click here to listen.


Blogger TOTAL KAOS said...

Well, getting out on bail is a start.

Saturday, September 02, 2006  
Blogger Alice said...

Morning Kevin..Yes. Great news! I'm shocked. I hope that he stays out for good.
p.s. Anarchist bloggers RULE!

Saturday, September 02, 2006  

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