Sunday, April 18, 2010

Police raid student newspaper offices, seize 900 photos | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Police raid offices of JMU’s paper, seize 900 photos

By Mark Bowes
Published: April 17, 2010
Buzz up!

Up to a dozen police officers led by Rockingham County's commonwealth's attorney raided the offices of James Madison University's student-run newspaper yesterday and seized more than 900 photos taken of last weekend's off-campus, violence-marred party.

Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha L. Garst, armed with a search warrant and accompanied by the officers, showed up unannounced about 10:30 a.m., said Katie Thisdell, editor-in-chief of The Breeze.

"She said if you don't release all of them, we are prepared to take everything out of this office -- all the computers, the cameras, documents, everything," Thisdell said last night

Thisdell said she complied after consulting with the newspaper's general manager, a university employee, and allowed police to download the images onto DVDs. She said not all the photos were related to Springfest, an annual party that drew about 8,000 people this year -- not all of them JMU students.

More than 30 people were arrested and 42 injuries were reported when police with riot shields used pepper spray and tear gas to break up last Saturday's party. Property damage was extensive, authorities said.

Thisdell said a member of Garst's office called her Thursday requesting the photos. Thisdell advised that the newspaper's policy was to release only those photos that appeared on its website or were published in the paper.

Garst couldn't be reached for comment last night.

Thisdell said The Breeze has accepted an offer to be legally represented by the Student Press Law Center in Arlington County, a nonprofit organization that defends student journalists' First Amendment rights. The law center yesterday demanded that Rockingham authorities immediately return the "improperly seized" unpublished photos.

Attorney Frank D. LoMonte, the center's executive director, said in a prepared statement that the search likely violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which makes it unlawful to search newsrooms for unpublished newsgathering materials.

"To intimidate student journalists with a massive show of force and with no time to consult with legal counsel is grossly improper," LoMonte said.

Contact Mark Bowes at (804) 649-6450 or .


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Flag Comment Posted by Robo on April 18, 2010 at 7:43 am

Rockingham Co CA & Police = NAZIS

Simple formula.

Where is the outrage at this

Flag Comment Posted by Will on April 17, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Badger: You shouldn’t blame the RTD for saying the raid occurred yesterday, and claim the reporter was on drugs. . .  That’s exactly what the student editor told reporters and what was reported in every other state newspaper. The search warrant was executed yesterday (Friday) just like it says in the story.

I guess you get your knowledge from some secret Badger Times or something.

“By Jordan Fifer | The Roanoke Times
At least half a dozen police officers and the Rockingham County commonwealth�s attorney raided the offices of James Madison University�s student newspaper Friday, confiscating hundreds of photos of an off-campus riot last weekend, the paper�s editor said.“

And Badger, the First Amendment might be an issue. More germane, if you’d read to the end of the story, is the Privacy Protection Act, a specific federal law to protect newsrooms from this sort of blanket fishing expedition to cease all their equipment, etc.—which is exactly what the CA threatened to do. If this act is in play, then the evidence she has ceased won’t be able to be used in a court of law. Dumb.

Flag Comment Posted by badger on April 17, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Uh, folks…This happened like 3-4 days ago! And the Times-Dispatch is just posting it as news today? The search warrant was not executed “yesterday” as Mark Bowes reports. (He needs to lay off the sleeping pills).

Violation of the First Amendment? Oh lady, you’re way off. Well there’s much that this pitiful RT-D version doesn’t give you, so maybe you truly don’t know.
#1. The Breeze refused to let CA Garst look at the photos, when Garst first asked.
#2. The photos are evidence in a criminal investigation.
#3. Many of the photos are of last weekend’s riot, where JMU students—and non-JMU students—pelted Harrisonburg police officers (and others) with rocks, bottles & cans.
#4. The ER there was overflowing all day & all night from inuries. One guy had to be flown to UVA hospital he was hurt so bad (and is why 8 people were charged with Malicious Wounding by Mob).

So this is a simple ‘free speech issue’, huh? Hey I got a tip—Know what actually happened before you go off on some high-school civics class tangent!!

Flag Comment Posted by Will on April 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm

The Roberts Court, Inc., has already decided that students don’t have rights in Morse v. Frederick. What’s the big deal?

Flag Comment Posted by ramgrl on April 17, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Could there BE a clearer case of first amendment rights violation? WTF was the CA thinking here? And going in herself with the police? Thats a CLEAR breech of separation between law enforcement and the prosecution. Theres no way she can be involved in the hearing for this case because it would be a huge conflict of interest. She just put herself on the same level as the officers there, as a witness. What a moron! Did she completely miss the first year of law school?? I agree with the last post here. What IS this state coming to with the violations of Constitutional rights every five seconds. It’s embarassing!

Flag Comment Posted by gnomic on April 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Is the the County Attorney incompetent and ignorant of the law, or does he think that he has some special exemption? His job is to uphold the law, not violate it. I suspect this is a result of the culture of the current state leadership that believes that it can ignore federal laws and the US constitution because they don’t agree that all citizens are created equal and that the Commonwealth of Virgina is subject to federal laws. I wonder what rights or laws they will decide that to violate next. And the word you are looking for is “facist.“ That’s what you call a state that superceeds your rights at a whim. Jefferson would be so ashamed of the leaders today.

Flag Comment Posted by J-Reb on April 17, 2010 at 3:52 am

This is America.  The Police can do whatever they want.

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This is a very serious breach of First Amendment principles. The government cannot raid a newsroom unless they've exhausted all other reasonable means to get what they are looking for. Please help spread the word about this serious incident and consider donating ( to the Student Press Law Center (

Posted via web from Doug's posterous

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