Student media avoid subpoenas for riot footage

ARIZONA — The student newspaper and student-run televisionstation at the University of Arizona successfully avoided subpoenasaimed at forcing them to hand over photographs and taped footageof a disturbance in Tucson that followed Arizona’s loss in thefinal round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Pima County prosecutors withdrew the two grand jury subpoenas,which were issued in April and early May, after they were metwith challenges from the Arizona student media.

Prosecutors sought to compel The Daily Wildcat and TV3to forfeit to Tucson police photographs and taped footage of riotsin the Fourth Avenue area of town.

After Arizona’s April 2 loss to Duke University, nearly 500police officers donning bulletproof shields and nightsticks showeredrevelers with rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowdof more than 2,000, a portion of which had begun to cause substantialdamage to the area. According to The Daily Wildcat, severalcars were flipped, several stores looted and a bar was torchedduring the disturbance.

Shortly after the incident, the Pima County Attorney’s officeissued grand jury subpoenas to numerous local media outlets, includingthe Wildcat and TV3, in hopes of gaining material thatwould help identify the revelers who contributed to the disturbance.

But Daily Wildcat editor Ryan Finley, who was the newspaper’ssports editor in the spring, said the paper’s editors decidedshortly after the riot that they would challenge any efforts aimedat forcing them to release any photographs of the incident.

Doug Metcalf, legal council for Arizona Student Media, drafteda letter to Tucson police on April 30 informing them that thesubpoena’s language made it impossible for the newspaper to comply.The letter cited the part of the subpoena that requested "anyand all file footage involving Tucson police department deploymentto NCAA championship riots on Fourth Avenue on April 2, 2001."

"The language of the subpoena was extremely poorly written,"Metcalf said. "We argued that the subpoena was too vague.It was impossible to know what would be helpful and thereforewe were not able to comply."

Arizona’s shield law protects media outlets from having toturn over notes, photos and other materials to investigators.But the law does not protect the media from grand jury subpoenas.

Finley said the newspaper’s editors wanted to contest the subpoenato avoid creating a pattern where the police would come to themedia to gain help investigating crimes.

"If we had caved into the Tucson Police Department, itcould have set a dangerous precedent," he said. "Wedidn’t want [the police department] coming to us every time theyare investigating a crime, every time there is a happening, demandingour photos from us. We didn’t want them to start trying to getus to do their work for them."