St. Louis circuit attorney drops subpoena for St. Louis Public Radio
Updated Feb. 25
St. Louis circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce has withdrawn her subpoena of St. Louis Public Radio. The station was subpoenaed at the end of January after a conflict broke out during a Public Safety Committee hearing at St. Louis City Hall.
St. Louis Public Radio was not the only media outlet to receive a subpoena, but the station objected to handing over any footage, audio or photographs from the meeting.
In a statement, Joyce announced Wednesday that her office has withdrawn the subpoena:
"The office has determined those materials do not enhance our investigation. Therefore, we intend to withdraw our subpoena to St. Louis Public Radio related to this incident. This incident remains under investigation and we appreciate the cooperation we have received by the media regarding this and other criminal investigations. Anyone with any information regarding criminal conduct at this meeting, please contact our office or the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. We will notify the public if or when charges are filed related to this incident."
Our original story
In the aftermath of the disruption that ended an aldermanic hearing on a civilian review board, St. Louis Public Radio received a subpoena from the St. Louis circuit attorney for “all raw and aired video and audio footage of the meeting of the Public Safety Committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on January 28, 2015, including footage of interviews, the meeting itself and any events that occurred in the meeting room or in the area outside the meeting room.” The subpoena was later modified to eliminate a request for names of witnesses and written notes about the incident.
The subpoena further said, “You are requested not to disclose the existence of this subpoena.”
As the station considers the subpoena, editor Margaret Wolf Freivogel said, “We believe that to subpoena information from news organizations raises an important public issue. While the subpoena ‘requests’ that we not disclose its existence, it does not assert a legal obligation, and we don’t believe one exists.”
(Read the Editor's Weekly for more about the issue.)
Coverage of the meetings and its aftermath has been widespread: In addition to the St. Louis Public Radio report, the meetings and the follow up are being reported by KMOV (Channel 4); Fox2; KSDK (Channel 5); the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis American.
St. Louis Public Radio has not been able to confirm whether these other news organizations also received subpoenas.
In an email statement to St. Louis Public Radio, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said the intent of the subpoena was not to obtain confidential sources or impeded the function of a news organization.
As far as why the circuit attorney resorted to subpoena a news organization when the meeting in question was public where many people, including police officers and civilians, witnessed the events, Joyce wrote:
As you are aware, the circuit attorney’s office has charged demonstrators for pushing and shoving other individuals. We have consistently maintained that this conduct violates the law. We have received complaints that similar such conduct may have occurred recently at City Hall. It is critical that we attempt to investigate all available information and witness accounts to determine what happened. This involves seeking all possible camera angles and all potential witnesses. To not do so before determining if charges are appropriate would be a miscarriage of justice. The inquiry by police and prosecutors would not be fair and complete unless investigators reviewed all available materials, including the materials of journalists, civilian witnesses, police officers and others. The use of investigative subpoenas is standard protocol for investigative agencies.
Joyce also said that asking subpoena recipients not to disclose the existence of the subpoena is typical and is designed to protect the integrity of the investigation.