Police seize hundreds of photos from Va. campus newspaper

Monday, April 19, 2010

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Authorities have seized more than 900 photos from James Madison University's student-run newspaper that were taken earlier this month during a weekend block party marred by fights and the arrests of more than 30 people.

Katie Thisdell, editor-in-chief of The Breeze, says up to a dozen police officers led by Rockingham County's commonwealth's attorney raided newspaper's offices on April 16.

Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the search likely violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits the search of newsrooms for unpublished newsgathering materials.

Harrisonburg police said officers used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 8,000 people that had gathered on April 10 for Springfest, an annual open-air party. During the weekend event, fights broke out and some partygoers threw bottles and rocks at officers.

Thisdell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch for an April 17 article that The Breeze had accepted an offer to be represented by the SPLC.

“To intimidate student journalists with a massive show of force and with no time to consult with legal counsel is grossly improper,” LoMonte said in a statement.

The student newspaper reported today that Thisdell said an agreement was reached yesterday between the attorney for the commonwealth and The Breeze’s lawyers. Thisdell said that the photos were to remain sealed and held by a third party until a further agreement could be reached.

According to The Breeze, police seized 926 photos, 682 of which were of the party and riot.

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