Independent Journalist Jailed for Resisting Grand Jury Subpoena
Federal judge denies constitutional arguments -- incarceration based on non-existent damage to SFPD vehicle
San Francisco, CA -- Independent journalist Josh Wolf was jailed today for refusing to provide video footage to a federal grand jury convened in January. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup denied Wolf's First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment arguments, found him in civil contempt, and ordered him immediately jailed. Wolf, 24, was taken to the Dublin federal detention center, and could remain there until July 2007, for the duration of the grand jury.
Wolf was present at and reported on a protest on July 8, 2005, in the Mission district against the Group of 8 (G8), meeting in Scotland at the time. Numerous witnesses at the demonstration reported that a police vehicle was driven into the crowd of protesters. This action was followed by two police officers exiting the vehicle and violently assaulting multiple people on the street. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finigan is supposedly seeking video footage for what the government claims is attempted arson on a San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) vehicle. However, no damage has ever been reported by SFPD.
"It's outrageous that the court is compelled to jail someone, let alone a journalist, over an incident that involved no property damage or harm to anyone," said Kris Hermes of the Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP), a coalition in support of Wolf and activists being harassed by the government. "Wolf's incarceration has an undeniable chilling effect on his work, the work of other journalists, and people wanting to speak out against U.S. policies."
Activists and Lawyers supporting Wolf have contended that this grand jury is an attempt to avoid California's strict Reporter Shield Law, which protects journalists' files and notes. "Local police could be investigating this incident, but they're not," continued Hermes. "the federal government absurdly asserts that this incident rises to the level of a federal crime because SFPD receives federal funds." Although similar shield laws exist in a majority of the states, no federal shield law exists to protect reporters.
At the close of today's hearing, Judge Alsup abruptly denied Wolf's request for bail. Alsup also denied a motion by Wolf's attorney, Jose Luis Fuentes, to stay the incarceration until an attempt to overturn the contempt ruling could be heard by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Later in the day, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors were due to vote on a resolution introduced by Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Tom Ammiano aimed at "resisting the federal government's intervention in the City and County of San Francisco's investigation of the July 8th, 2005 G-8 protest and expressing support for the California Shield Law." The Supervisors charge that the grand jury is an "attempt to circumvent the local judicial system," and they opposed federal government intervention in this matter. The resolution was sent to committee and will be heard within the next two weeks.
Wolf's experience with the federal government and this grand jury is not isolated, and comes as dozens of journalists and activists across the country are being threatened with indictments and jail time. "The U.S. government's harassment of Josh Wolf is part of a broader, renewed use of the federal grand jury to suppress dissent," said Samantha Levens of the GJRP. In May, Jeff Hogg, a full-time nursing student who works with developmentally disabled adults in Eugene, Oregon, was jailed for refusing to comply with a federal grand jury investigating environmental and animal rights activists. In San Francisco, a federal grand jury has recently been reconvened to investigate the animal liberation movement. Many activists refused to testify for the previous grand jury that expired in May. However, new subpoenas to appear in August have been served on multiple animal rights activists.
Information compiled by the Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP), a coalition that provides education on politically motivated attacks by government and support to people targeted by these attacks, shows that grand juries are currently being used against environmental and animal rights activists, as well as groups that have historically struggled for self-determination. The GJRP reports that in the past year, at least 66 individuals have been subpoenaed and/or indicted in Atlanta, Denver, Eugene, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Tampa, FL, and Trenton, NJ. At least fourteen people have refused to testify, and some were jailed for contempt. In an affidavit filed in connection with the indictment of three environmental activists in Auburn, CA, the FBI irrelevantly referenced "anarchists" and "anarchism" 26 times. GJRP believes that the grand jury to which Josh Wolf has been subpoenaed is part of the same broad and unconstitutional federal investigation into anarchist and antiwar activity and other political movements that oppose U.S. policies.