Breeze, CA office reach settlement

Alex Sirney -- June 1st, 2010

The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has agreed to limit the scope of its request for photographs related to the civil disturbance on Village Lane from The Breeze and to reimburse The Breeze for $10,000 in legal fees.

In an agreement signed over the weekend, Commonwealth Attorney Marcia Garst and The Breeze Editor-in-Chief Katie Thisdell agreed to the limited request and reimbursement after more than a month of negotiation. As a condition of the signing, The Breeze turned over 20 photographs of the 962 originally seized that met the limited criteria.

The BreezeThis comes after Garst served a warrant on April 16 allowing her to confiscate any photographs from the April 10 Village Lane incident. The Breeze initially refused, and continues to assert that the seizure violated the Federal Privacy Protection Act.

In a statement provided with the agreement and dated Tuesday Garst stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, but expressed regret for “the fear and concern that [she] caused The Breeze and its staff.”

She continues:

Finally, my office intends to follow and enforce the Constitution, as well as Federal and State statutes related to law enforcement and criminal investigations. In the future, absent an imminent need to prevent the loss of life or the threat of bodily injury, any information and documents which will be sought from any news agency or publication, including The Breeze, will be done so through the subpoena process accordingly.

Thisdell also released a statement that expressed pleasure at the resolution while continuing to assert that the initial seizure was illegal. She also explains The Breeze‘s decision to release the 20 photographs:

Here, after the Commonwealth’s Attorney narrowed the request to eight specific incidents, we determined, after talking with our counsel, that if those categories of photos were in fact subpoenaed, a judge might agree that the Commonwealth was entitled to the small number of photographs we had of those incidents – a total of 20 photographs. We therefore are providing them to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and have added them to the many images that were already public on our Web site. The still-sealed discs of the 962 photos originally seized on April 16th have been returned to The Breeze.

The agreement was also signed by both the JMU and Harrisonburg Police Departments, and included language that stated the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department had no part in the seizure. Language was also included that released all parties from additional legal action related to the incident.

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