Vt. Court: Television station must give police unaired tape of riot
By DAVID GRAM
MONTPELIER, Vt.- The Vermont Supreme Court ordered a television station to turn over to police unaired tape of a student riot, ruling unanimously Friday that no privilege allowed the station to continue withholding the footage.
The station's lawyer had argued that the media's role in gathering and conveying information would be harmed if the media were turned into "an investigative arm of the state."
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said, "While the press has the right to withhold whatever information from publication that it chooses, the exercise of that right does not grant the press a First Amendment `exemption' from the ordinary duty of all citizens to furnish relevant information to a grand jury."
The footage was taped last Oct. 21 at the University of Vermont campus where more than 1,000 people, mostly students, had gathered to celebrate the Boston Red Sox's victory over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
The celebration turned to a riot in which fires were set, a vehicle was tipped over and light poles were toppled, resulting in an estimated $30,000 in damage.
Five students were charged, but Chittenden County State's Attorney Robert Simpson said he had been stymied in prosecuting some of the crimes and had been able to collect only $8,000 in restitution.
"The reporter has the same obligation as any other citizen to be a witness if they observe a crime taking place," Simpson said Friday.
Marselis Parsons, news director at WCAX, said, "It's a sad day. I'm dismayed by the court's decision. We knew that it was an uphill fight."
He said he very much doubted that police would find more evidence of crimes on the unaired tapes. "We showed the videotape that was the most dramatic. We didn't conceal any crime. We have no interest in shielding a bunch of stupid UVM kids who are out of control."
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