A freelance videographer who filmed Seattle police stomping an innocent Latino man’s head against the concrete and threatening to “beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you, homey,” says that Q-13, the local affiliate of Fox News, refused to air the footage because they didn’t want to hinder access to police sources.
The photographer, Jud Morris, then sold that footage to KIRO Television, which aired it last night—sparking an uproar about apparent police misconduct and triggering an internal police investigation—but Q-13 is now gearing up with lawyers, claiming that footage was illegally stolen and neither KIRO nor the photographer has rights to the video.
To prove that they own the footage, Q-13 provided a copy of the raw video to The Stranger, which we’ve embedded in a YouTube video below. In it, you can see a Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer stomping a Latino man’s head against the concrete, another officer stomping the man’s kneecap against the pavement, and the first cop threatening to “beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you” while responding to an alleged robbery outside the China Harbor Club on Westlake Avenue on April 17. Officers released the man when they realized that he wasn’t involved in the crime (which Slog wrote about at the time here), and the bloodied suspect then spoke to the photographer. This is the raw footage filmed by photographer Jud Morris:
Q-13 insists the footage is theirs and they are considering taking legal action. Morris was working for Q-13 that night, using a Q-13 van, filming with a Q-13 camera, and a time slip shows that he was on the clock when the incident was filmed, says Q-13 news director Steve Kraycik. “It’s illegal. You can’t take the property of another television station—a video in this case—and sell it to another media outlet and then air it,” he says. “They don’t have the rights to that video.”
But that’s Q-13’s side of the story. Morris says the video is his and KIRO insists they got the video fair and square. According to Morris—who works as a freelancer photographer, or “stringer,” and then sells the footage to several local television stations—he finished working early on April 17 and left the Q-13 station in his own vehicle, with his own camera. He says he filled out his time sheet at the beginning of the week, but he left before the hours were up because he was trying to avoid overtime. He saw a bunch of cop cars take off and he filmed the incident. But when he tried to sell the footage to Q-13 the next day, he says, they refused to air it.
“I was told flat out… that this video will not go to air—we will not air it,” Morris says. “They said it is not that egregious. Those were the exact words.”
Morris believes Q-13 rejected the footage because the station has strong ties to the SPD and law enforcement throughout the state, such as airing a show called Washington’s Most Wanted, which profiles fugitives in the state.
“I said I know about our relationship with the police because of Washington's Most Wanted, but it’s time to get out of bed,” Morris says. Airing the video on Q-13 “would affect their relationship with the police. KCPQ's top concern is their relationship with the police. … Because of their relationship with police, they are in a position where they get scoops and stories that nobody else gets. They work so closely on that all the time. They are just not willing to let that go, even if it means not reporting real news.”
More after the jump.
KIRO echoes some of those concerns and absolves itself of wrongdoing. “As far as I’m concerned we bought this video from a stringer legally. It’s our video. And we think it’s news,” says KIRO news director Todd Mokhtari. “He was clear that it was his equipment. He even brought it over. We have signed documents from him to release the rights to us.”
Both sides have lawyered up. “They threatened us with their lawyer,” says Mokhtari. “So we let our lawyers know. But it was not a question about whether we were going to run the story.” More to the point, KIRO thought it was big news: “I don’t know why they would pass on this story,” Mokhtari says.
Q-13 says the station hadn’t run the story yet—recorded on April 17, three weeks ago—because they were still considering it. “We were in the process of vetting this story ourselves and had made no decision whether we were going to run it,” says Kraycik. Claims that the station blocked it to maintain privileged access to the Seattle police “is simply not true. That is flat out not true.”
As for claims that Morris was using his own truck and own equipment, Kraycik says, “I believe that is false.” He says Q-13 cameras are digital and the footage had been downloaded to the Q-13 computers. “But the crux of this case," Kraycik adds, "is that while paid as a per diem employee and working an assigned shift, you are an employee of our television station and we retain all right to material that you shoot.”
There was no contract, however, and only an agreement between the station and Morris. “We made it clear to Mr. Morris when he was hired that when employees of television stations are on the clock, the video you shoot is the property of the television station.” Morris, in contrast, says he was not on the clock after he left the station and the Q-13 vehicle was being repaired so he used his own vehicle (his time card says he was on the clock, but he says he couldn’t go back to fix it because the station fired him). “My agreement with KCPQ was always that if it was shot out of my camera and a shot my truck, it was my property.”
Today, Mayor Mike McGinn and interim police Chief John Diaz were concerned by the video. "I watched the video and found it disturbing," McGinn wrote in a statement. "Chief Diaz has informed me that SPD and the Office of Professional Accountability are investigating the incident."
Morris is glad the footage is out. "I saw this. I filmed this. He had no alcohol on his breath. He was dazed by a blow to the head, and the public needs to see this."