Last week, I reported on the protracted legal tussle over the release of surveillance video from the June 5 shooting at Seattle Pacific University. In the case, the plaintiffs are SPU and an anonymous group of victims and witnesses, who sued to block the release of the video under Washington's Public Records Act. The defendants, who had filed disclosure requests to obtain the three-minute clip, are Seattle's four major TV stations (KOMO, KIRO, KING, and Q13 FOX).
The clip reportedly shows the gunman, having just killed 19-year-old student Paul Lee, pointing a shotgun at one student and then firing on another, before being subdued.
Here's where we left off:
When we discussed the prospect of broadcasting the SPU surveillance video, [journalism ethics expert Fred] Brown’s comments turned blunt: “I don’t think they should use it, frankly. It’s in very poor taste. It is verging on unethical to use it. You have to ask yourself, what does it accomplish? And I can’t think of anything that it adds to public understanding. It’s sensationalistic.”
To recap: That was King County commissioner Velategui’s view, but his opinion was overruled by Superior Court judge Halpert, who nonetheless said, “It is the court’s hope that the media defendants will employ sound editorial judgment in their use of the videotape, focusing on the acts of heroism instead of the acts of justice.” The case is now before the Washington State Court of Appeals. If Judge Halpert’s ruling is upheld, the lawyer for the plaintiffs said he would immediately petition the Washington State Supreme Court.
On Friday, Washington State Court of Appeals commissioner Mary Neel issued a stay preventing the video's release, pending a full hearing on the university and victims' appeal of Judge Halpert's ruling. "I conclude that the individual plaintiffs and the University have raised debatable issues," she wrote (PDF). "I further conclude that balancing the relative harm with and without a stay weighs in favor of a stay pending appeal, and a stay is necessary to preserve the fruits of a successful appeal."