Student newspaper’s front-page photo sparks protest, subpoena

Tuesday, November 9, 1999

A California State University, Sacramento, newspaper editor is fighting a lawyer’s efforts to subpoena photos and other records from the paper.

David Sommers, editor in chief of The State Hornet, was subpoenaed on Oct. 19 to provide “all news-clips, films, videos, photographs, or other documents pertaining to [Gustavo Chavez's] arrest” and a related campus protest.

Sommers’ lawyers, Jacqueline Kinney and Matthew Roberts, plan to file a motion in Sacramento County Superior Court objecting to the subpoena within the next week. A hearing in People v. Gustavo Chavez is scheduled for Nov. 23.

Chavez was arrested Sept. 18 on two counts of resisting an officer after being involved in a fight at the Causeway Classic football game. The State Hornet ran a front-page story, along with a photo, about Chavez’s arrest in its Oct. 6 issue. Chavez was also charged with resisting a peace officer, removal of a weapon from a peace officer and battery, the paper reported.

The front-page photo of Chavez outraged members of the Latino community who marched through campus Oct. 7, accusing the paper of stereotyping minorities. Some protesters accused the Hornet of publishing trash and removed several thousand copies of the paper from newsstands.

“They went to all 36 of our racks and cleaned them out,” Sommers said.

Protesters stacked about 3,000 copies of the paper in front of the door to the newspaper office, blocking the staff inside, Sommers said.

In her motion to subpoena Sommers, Chavez’s lawyer, Lisa Franco, described the protest as an “on-campus outcry as a result of [Chavez's] arrest” and asked for documents pertaining to the protest. These documents would be “relevant, material, and admissible to the [case] in that they [might] prove or disprove the charges filed against the defendent … and [might] lead to the discovery of percipient witnesses,” Franco wrote.

Sommers, however, said that at no time during the protest did he feel that the protest was in response to Chavez’s arrest. “The feeling from the protest was that The State Hornet was not portraying minorities in a positive light in our newspaper,” he said.

No identifiable group took responsibility for organizing the protest, Sommers said, adding that he had tried, to no avail, to meet with protesters to discuss their concerns.

“We have scheduled two meetings with them, and they have not shown up,” Sommers said. “They want to yell, but they don’t want to talk.”

A newly formed campus organization, United Students for Action, presented Sommers with a list of demands on Nov. 2. Its demands include a front-page apology; the reinstatement of the positions of copy editor and photo consultant “to develop a policy regarding selection and printing of photographs and headings”; articles on the minority experience at CSUS; the addition of minority staff “in significant positions”; and the addition of a minority faculty adviser.

United Students also demands that the Hornet staff attend a one-day cultural sensitivity workshop if the photo and heading were published accidentally. If they “were intended to inflame and incite xenophobic action against minorities,” the group demands that someone on staff be held accountable.

United Students says it expects a written response from the paper and plans to send a delegation to pick up the response at 4:30 p.m. PT today. The group has also scheduled a forum for Nov. 16 to discuss the matter with Sommers, the Hornet staff and the paper’s faculty adviser.

“Our response right now is ‘no’ to their demands,” Sommers said. “The letter came in as an anonymous letter. We don’t know how to contact this group. Our policy is that we do not run or address anonymous letters.”

Sommers says that Hornet representatives have not decided whether to attend the forum. He says he plans to discuss the matter with his staff and with his lawyer to see if it affects the subpoena.