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Judge jails freelance TV photographer

A federal judge today (Aug. 1) sent a freelance TV news photographer to jail for refusing to surrender a video he shot of anarchist protesters attacking a San Francisco police officer. As a federal marshal led Josh Wolf (pictured), 24, out of the San Francisco courtroom, journalists appeared shocked and Wolf’s mother cried.

“I don’t think he should go to jail defending the freedom of the press,” said Liz Wolf-Spada afterward.

Wolf’s lawyer, Jose Fuentes, said outside of court that he will immediately file an already-prepared notice of appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of. Wolf is not eligible for bail. Wolf could be kept in prison until the grand jury’s term expires next July.

The grand jury, along police and federal prosecutors, wanted Wolf’s videotape in order to identify protesters who clashed with police and possibly torched a police car during a June 8, 2005 demonstration in the Mission District. During the protest, which concerned the G8 economic conference in Scotland, officer Peter Shields was struck in the back of the head and seriously injured.

Wolf sold portions of the videotape to local TV stations, which aired it on their newscasts, but authorities want to see the entire tape.

Fuentes argued that the First Amendment allowed his client to withhold the tape. Moreover, California has a Shield Law for journalists which prohibits the government from seizing unpublished reporter notes and news footage. But U.S. District Judge William Alsup concluded that the First Amendment did not apply to Wolf’s case because nobody in the video asked for confidentiality.

“The grand jury is investigating whether or not a crime was committed … [The government has] a very legitimate and direct need of photographs of what happened,” said Alsup.

Wolf, who was found in contempt, will either be sent to Santa Rita Detention Center or federal jail facility in Hayward.

Meanwhile, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors delayed a vote on a resolution that was intended to offer support to Wolf and give The City’s position on the federal investigation of the anarchist protest. Though a vote was scheduled today, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi asked his colleagues to allow the resolution to detour toward a lower-level committee. Mirkarimi said hearing the resolution at the committee level will “give us a forum to clear up where we stand in terms of state and federal law, as to which has primacy.”

Before he went to jail, Wolf set up a Web site that documented his case. The site, http://www.joshwolf.net, features court documents and other articles regarding the case. (Story by Nicole Baldocchi and Bay City News.)

Other reports on this case: [SF Bay Guardian] [SPJ backs Wolf] [National Lawyers Guild supports Wolf] [London Guardian] [KGO-TV] [KCBS] [AP]

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