The flaws in the Josh Wolf case - Page 2

Why is a freelance journalist in jail? The closer you investigate, the more dubious the case looks
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That's not on the public part of Wolf's video, and Wolf and his lawyers insist there is no footage of the attack. Wolf fears that the government may be looking for something else — perhaps some video of other protesters — and will ask him to identify them. He refused to turn over the outtakes.
Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, says District Court Judge William Alsup, who ordered Wolf to jail, "made a big deal that Josh did not have agreement with a confidential source, but his argument turns Josh's video equipment into a de facto government surveillance camera."
Noting that there is a lot of trust between Wolf and protesters at demonstrations — "People aren't afraid to go up to the camera and say, 'Did you check out the pig that's kicking a guy down the street?’” — Villarreal claims that "independent journalists are harder to see and spot than their corporate counterparts."
The second, perhaps equally troubling problem is that the Wolf case should never have gone to the federal level in the first place.
Alan Schlosser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told us there are a lot of red flags in the Wolf case, "beginning with the question, 'Is there a legitimate federal law enforcement issue here?’”
The federal agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the FBI didn't choose to investigate the case — the San Francisco cops requested assistance. That in itself was odd: why is an assault on an officer a federal affair?
Schlosser asks, "Were the feds called in because they aren't bound by the state's reporter's shield law?"
In theory, the local cops say it's a federal issue because a cop car was damaged — and the city gets money from the federal government for law enforcement. Schlosser said it's disturbing that "the SFPD doesn't have to show the federal funds went towards paying for the allegedly damaged car.... So that statute could be applied to any number of situations. It's very troubling. It federalizes law enforcement around demonstrations."
A highly placed source in the SFPD offered a somewhat alarming explanation: the feds were brought in, the source said, not because of shield law issues but because the cops figured the JTTF and the US Attorney's Office would move faster and more aggressively than San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, who has not been on the best terms with the local police.
In other words, if this source is correct, the SFPD is choosing who will prosecute crimes — based on politics, not the law.
As of press time, all Harris's office was saying was that "the DA strongly believes in the First Amendment and the rights of the press. She also believes in justice for members of the SFPD. An officer was gravely injured that evening, and those responsible need to be held accountable."
Asked why the federal government was involved in the investigation, Luke Macaulay, a spokesperson for the US Attorney's Office, said, "This is not an attempt to profile anarchists and dissidents. It's an attempt to get to the bottom of a crime."
Macaulay also referred us to federal filings with the US District Court, which conclude that "the issue could not be more straightforward.... The incident is under investigation so that the grand jury can determine what, if any, crimes were committed."
As far as we can tell, there's nothing in writing that lays out when a San Francisco cop is allowed to ask for federal intervention in a case.