April 19, 2010
The Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter to Marsha Garst, commonwealth's attorney for Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg, condemning the raid made by her office and Harrisonburg Police of the James Madison University student newspaper, The Breeze.
Garst confiscated more than 900 photographs, more than 600 of which were of the Springfest riot on April 10.
The SPJ issued the following letter to Garst in opposition of the search warrant served on the student newspaper.
"The leadership of the Society of Professional Journalists is outraged by your actions when you barged into the offices of The Breeze at James Madison University on Friday, April 16, 2010, and seized over 900 published and unpublished photos from the newsroom," SPJ President Kevin Smith said. "We are especially troubled that your actions appeared to have violated the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980."
The Society of Professional Journalists was founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi. The organization promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.
The letter, which was signed by entire SPJ leadership, goes on to say:
"The office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney has trampled on the freedom of the press by trying to use this media outlet as an arm of law enforcement. In a democratic society, it is vital to have an unfettered press free to exercise the First Amendment without fear of government intervention.
"We recognize the need to investigate an out-of-control public event where crimes may have been committed but there are more appropriate tools available to law enforcement than to bully the student newspaper.
"We would like to point out that your own state’s constitution says that, 'The freedoms of speech and of the press are among the great bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained except by despotic governments.'
We ask that you return all of the materials, as well as copies, taken during your raid and issue an apology to the student newspaper, its staff and the university community."