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Police seize, return images from newspaper, station

Incident violates federal law that protects newspapers from searches

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage police investigating a shooting at a football stadium used a search warrant to seize hundreds of unpublished newspaper photographs and a videotape shot at the scene.

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After the judge who approved the warrant later agreed it violated federal law, police returned the photographs to the Anchorage Daily News and the videotape to Anchorage television station KTVA on Wednesday.

Patrick Dougherty, senior vice president and editor of the Anchorage Daily News, said Thursday the paper had refused a request by police for unpublished photos but later complied with the warrant.

But Stacy Feger, news director at KTVA-TV, said the incident at her station was a misunderstanding. When speaking to police on another matter, Feger said, she asked if they had seen the station's story on the shooting. The story contained footage shot by a spectator and she said it might be of interest to police. She offered to make the tape available if police came back with a subpoena, but they returned with a warrant.

"This in my mind, truly, was a clerical mistake and perhaps a misunderstanding of some terminology," she said. "There is no part of me that believes that this was malicious by the police department at all."

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Anchorage Police spokesman Lt. Paul Honeman told The Associated Press he was disappointed in the way the Daily News has portrayed the incident, calling it a "total misrepresentation."

He said the detective who contacted photo editors was told the images would be provided if he produced a subpoena. In Alaska, Honeman said, police usually cannot get subpoenas until an investigation reaches the grand jury stage and believed a warrant was sufficient.

"I'm just disappointed that this was made out to be we were sitting at the police department and thinking of a way to raid the Anchorage Daily News," he said.

"It was a simple request, and they could have easily said, 'No, we don't want to,'" Honeman said. If that happened, Honeman said police would have reassessed whether the images were important enough to pursue the subpoena.

"We felt that using the search warrant was tantamount to a subpoena," he told the Daily News.

Police say rough play in a pickup football game Sunday led to a shooting that left Daniel L. Leituala, 21, seriously injured and players and spectators scrambling for exits at the Anchorage Football Stadium.

Witnesses said dozens of shots were fired. Police Chief Walt Monegan on Monday said at least three calibers of shell casings were recovered in the incident, the latest chapter in an upswing in youth gun violence in the city. Five men in their teens or early 20s have been killed since March 2005 and more than a dozen wounded.

Police have been frustrated by the reluctance of witnesses to aid in their investigation.

Dougherty said Thursday the seized photographs were taken by an intern, Matthew Ellis, who was covering a baseball tournament at adjacent fields. He shot images of football players, spectators and a car fleeing the gunfire and Leituala receiving medical assistance.

On Tuesday, a police officer called the paper asking for the images. Photographer Fran Durner relayed the paper's policy of not turning unpublished photos over without a court order.

A handful of photos had been published with the paper's story in print. With interest high in the case, Dougherty said, he ordered 38 photos to be posted on the paper's Web site.

"By doing that, I deliberately changed, sort of, the amount of photography that would be available to everyone, including the police, with no intention of violating a policy that I think has real importance to our ability to do our jobs," he said.

Two officers showed up Wednesday with the search warrant. Dougherty asked the officer if there was any way to appeal the warrant or discuss it with the paper's attorney.

"They said, 'No, you have to comply,'" he said.

There was no search, he said. The police remained in the newspaper's lobby as Dougherty put about 160 images on a disk and handed it over.

Newspaper attorney John McKay, however, was familiar with Privacy Protection Act passed by Congress in 1980. He called the judge who issued the search warrant, noted the law, and the judge ordered the photos and videotape returned.

The policy of not handing out unused notes and photographs is in place for convenience and for the paper's credibility. A paper is constantly involved with litigation, whistle blowing and crime stories, Dougherty said.

"We would face a constant barrage of requests," he said.

Also, if sources knew their comments and documents would be passed on, they no longer would speak to the paper, Dougherty said.

"We could not do our job," he said.

The Daily News will resist any further police attempts to obtain the photos by subpoena, he said. Subpoenas, unlike search warrants, can be contested in court before they are enforced.



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