DA Moves to Keep Police Video Evidence Private

A legal battle is underway over the right to publicize a video that shows alleged police brutality. The video is of a March 24th incident in which seven Houston police officers are accused of beating a 15-year-old burglary suspect. Laurie Johnson reports.


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A federal judge in Houston will hear arguments from a civil attorney, media outlets and the Harris County District Attorney’s office over whether the video of the so-called Westside 4 case should be released to the public.

Seven Houston police officers were fired after the alleged beating and four of them have been indicted on criminal charges and await trials.

Two of them also face federal civil charges and the DA’s office wants to make sure the video doesn’t go go public in civil court. John Bornhill is general counsel for the district attorney.

“The attorney representing the plaintiff has sought under a subpoena and obtained a copy of a video that we anticipate will be evidence in a criminal trial. We have filed a motion for a protective order asking the judge to first review the video and to determine whether an order should be entered protecting it from release prior to trial.”

Bornhill says the government’s position is that release of the video would make it difficult to get an impartial
jury and could even result in a change of venue.

But two Houston media outlets have challenged the motion for a protective order, saying it’s a violation of
First Amendment rights to prevent the public from seeing the video. Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law, says this is an unusual case.

“I don’t think it’s very common to know that there is video evidence, but also have that in a situation where the government has exclusive control over it. I’m not surprised at all that the media’s trying to get it. That’s their job. Their job under the First Amendment is to put pressure on the government to try and disclose information, even if it means that it may make it more difficult for the government to get a jury that can give a defendant a fair trial.”

The judge will hear arguments regarding the motion some time this week. If the motion is upheld, the video will not be released until after the four indicted officers have been tried.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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