Police Raid of James Madison Newspaper Offices Rattles Student Journalists

JMU's student newspaper had photos of a riot that the police wanted to investigate.

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There was a riot near James Madison University on April 10. What started as an off-campus party degenerated into a throng of violent partygoers. Dozens were injured and arrested, and police reported significant amounts of damage to neighborhood houses, cars, and even dumpsters in Harrisonburg, Va. 

The Breeze, James Madison's student newspaper, collected photographs of the incident and published some in the newspaper and on its website. In the process of investigating the incident, Harrisonburg and James Madison University police wanted to see more of the pictures, so they contacted The Breeze on Thursday and asked to see the unpublished photos. The Breeze Editor-in-Chief Katie Thisdell told investigators that her newspaper's policy only allowed the release of published photos, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports

Then, on Friday morning, police and Rockingham County Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst arrived at The Breeze's offices with a search warrant and demanded to see the photos. Thisdell, who originally cited the Privacy Protection Act, which says it's illegal to collect unpublished material from a newsgathering outlet, eventually agreed to copy the photos for the police after the investigators threatened to take The Breeze's cameras, computers, and other documents. The investigators confiscated 926 photos, according to The Breeze

The Breeze says the search wasn't conducted properly. In these circumstances, the Student Press Law Center says, police usually allow media outlets some time to respond to warrants demanding the release of information. 

In response to the fiasco, The Breeze has sought legal counsel, and the photos will be sealed until Garst and the student newspaper agree on how to handle the situation, The Breeze reports. The attorneys on both sides agreed to have a third party hold the photos until further notice, the student newspaper says. 

"To intimidate student journalists with a massive show of force and with no time to consult with legal counsel is grossly improper," Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte tells the Times-Dispatch in a statement. 

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