Tag Archives: public records

The decision not to publish the Walmart shootout video

Today on kitsapsun.com you’ll find a story with updated information on the Jan. 23 shootout at the Port Orchard Walmart and some description of what investigators saw on the survelliance video that captured the incident that left two Kitsap County sheriff’s deputies injured, and a 30-year-old man and 13-year-old girl dead. Later we plan to update that story with an interview with the woman who made the initial 911 call, and possibly details from the investigation.

Later today you may see that video elsewhere online, and it may also be shown on tonight’s television news out of Seattle.

You will not see that video on our website. Not because we missed obtaining that crucial part of the story — we’ve had it most of today and even edited the video into a package that could be posted online. Rather, after a discussion among editors and reporters, the decision was made not to put it online under our name.

These decisions are taken very seriously here, if you remember the column I wrote last year after we spent time in court obtaining the dash-cam video that showed the incidents leading to a fatal shooting by a police officer in Silverdale. That’s why I share them with you when it comes up. Reporting on death is tough on it’s own; having a video that shows a person’s demise, whatever the circumstances, prods opinions and ethical questions that take some time to work through.

Among the factors we weigh are the graphic violence shown, the news value of the images, the context of the story and responsibility we assume to be a watchdog on law enforcement, and, perhaps most difficult, putting ourselves in the shoes of survivors of the deceased or other victims.

Law enforcement’s actions from Jan. 23 are not in question. We reported late last week that ballistics testing shows the 30-year-old suspect in the incident shot and killed the 13-year-old girl before turning the gun on himself, and the video, from a vantage point at least a few hundred feet away, does not contradict that finding. The video is not overly graphic or violent, but it shows a sheriff’s deputy writhing in pain after a gunshot wound, and the death of two others. Whatever the circumstances, both are human beings with lives and families, and the loss they feel is not something we will ignore.

We made the decision not to publish the video prior to learning it had been published online by others. We made the decision with the knowledge that it may be shown on television news. The competitiveness in every journalist exists in us, and we don’t enjoy the fact that our readers will get a piece of a local news story from another source.

But this video is one piece that, if you feel you need to see it, you must find elsewhere.

—David Nelson

Seattle Media Post Cop Shooting Video

The Seattle police shooting incident I mentioned in a recent column is back in the news today.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Seattle Times, Seattle PI and KIRO 7 chose to post a dash camera video taken during the fatal shooting of carver John T. Williams. I’d imagine other Seattle news agencies will follow suit, and you’ll see it on all the evening broadcasts tonight. The actual shooting takes place outside the camera’s frame, unlike in our case surrounding the shooting of Matthew Netter, but the audio of the four gun shots and Officer Ian Birk’s verbal response is very clear.

Also unlike the Netter video, which the Kitsap County Prosecutor could view when determining whether or not the Silverdale shooting was justified, you don’t see Birk or his reaction at all following the shooting. His voice is audible as more law enforcement arrives though.

There is an editor’s note on the Times’ story, explaining what is shown in case readers want a warning about violent content. I don’t see anything similar on the KIRO or PI sites, or any further explanation from Times editors on the decision making. When all media jumps in the newsworthiness is fairly evident — though that’s not to say you can’t still stand on principle. But there was no public records fight like we had to deal with, which was a unique part of our case and behind my explanation to you all.


A Final Note on Our Records Case

In May I explained our involvement in a public records case involving Kitsap County and the county’s appeal over attorney’s fees and penalties awarded to the Sun in a trial court’s 2008 ruling.

On Thursday we received notice on the next step, which I’d like to share with you. I also need to clarify a statement regarding our expenses made in the May 16 column and on this blog.

The Division II Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the Sun is owed the full amount of attorney’s fees and costs spent in countering the county’s appeal. That total is $48,821.98. I use the precise figure this time because I did not in May, which left some ambiguity over how much we had spent because I had incorrectly referred to a number lower than the actual total.

The number cited above is only what was spent on the county’s appeal of the fees and penalties awarded by the trial court. Of the $30,000 spent on the initial trial court process, $21,491.55 was awarded.

All told, we spent more than $80,000 fighting for public records and then countering the county’s appeal. The ruling now goes through two further procedural steps, and we expect the case to rest.

Our legal representation, Greg Overstreet of the Allied Law Group, said Thursday’s award is “an unusually high amount of recovery,” which surprised even an experienced public records attorney. That emphasizes my message from a month ago: This was a case worth pursuing to uphold the integrity of public disclosure laws and the spirit with which those laws are treated — and hopefully a signal to public agencies that the public’s right to know will be upheld in our state’s courts.