Judge refuses to block WWL-TV from airing video

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

NEW ORLEANS  — A federal judge has refused to block a New Orleans television station from using surveillance camera video of a confrontation last year inside a supermarket between store employees and an alleged shoplifter who died weeks later.

Breaux Mart Supermarkets Inc. sued WWL-TV on Tuesday before the CBS affiliate aired the video in a report on the death of Norbert Gallego. The footage shows employees of the Chalmette store tackle and restrain the 51-year-old man before deputies arrived and took him to a hospital.

The New Orleans-area chain argued that the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office shouldn’t have released the footage to the news station, but U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that Breaux Mart hasn’t shown its video is entitled to copyright protection.

Breaux Mart lawyers said allowing WWL to use “unlawfully obtained intellectual property” could deter other businesses from sharing surveillance videos with police.

“Imagine if the businesses near the Boston marathon bombing had to think about whether or not to share their surveillance records with police after the bombing because of some other business consideration,” they wrote in a court filing.

WWL attorneys said the station lawfully obtained the video through a public records request and has “every right” to use it.

“Simply put, an injunction against WWL prohibiting it from using the Breaux Mart security camera video would be an unprecedented prior restraint of WWL’s First Amendment rights,” they wrote.

In her one-page order, Vance denied Breaux Mart’s request for a temporary restraining order but scheduled a May 23 hearing on its request for a preliminary injunction.

Breaux Mart lawyers said one of the chain’s owners saw a promotion for WWL’s news report and recognized the surveillance footage.

“The advertisement ended with a statement to the effect of ‘Why weren’t these men charged?’ leaving the viewer to infer that the Breaux Mart employees had committed a crime,” they wrote.

WWL reported  that nobody was charged in Gallego’s death after the parish coroner, Bryan Bertucci, concluded he died of natural causes. Bertucci told WWL that it “wasn’t an easy case.”

“He had a bad heart and a host of other problems. It’s not just one thing,” he said. “Was it complicated by this altercation? Yes. Did it contribute to his death? Probably. But in my opinion, that’s not what killed him.”

Breaux Mart lawyers said Gallego appeared to be intoxicated when he entered the store on June 9, 2012, and tried to leave with stolen merchandise. Two employees who detained him were injured in the struggle, they added.

When deputies arrived, Gallego complained of chest pains and was taken to a hospital, where he died about a month later.

St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Jack Rowley’s office recused itself and referred the case to Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell’s office, which ultimately ruled out any criminal charges.

However, Breaux Mart agreed to pay about $500,000 in a civil settlement with six siblings of Gallego, a lawyer for the chain told WWL.

Tags: , , ,