Reporter Must Testify in Fla. Police Shooting Case

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     (CN) – A federal judge ruled last week that an NBC reporter must testify about an interview with a minor who was shot by police in 2012.
     A lawsuit claims that Sebastian Gregory was shot multiple times by Miami-Dade County police officer Luis Perez on May 28, 2012. It alleges that Gregory was on the ground posing no threat when he was shot in the back
     Gregory testified that, just prior to the shooting and while he was laying on the ground with his hands stretched out, he wobbled his leg because a bat was bothering him. He was carrying an aluminum tee-ball bat inside his oversized pants at the time in order to protect himself from bullies, according to an NBC Miami report.
     Perez, by contrast, testified that he saw Gregory move his hand quickly toward what the police officer thought was a gun, the ruling states.
     Willard Shepard, reporter for NBC subsidiary WTVJ-TV, allegedly interviewed Gregory on January 14, 2014 about the shooting. Shepard, who is not a party to the case, asked a Florida district court to quash a subpoena requiring him to appear for a deposition and produce certain materials from the interview and the news story.
     Gregory said in his deposition that he did not tell Shepard that he reached to adjust the bat. Perez sought Shepard’s deposition to ask what Gregory told the reporter about his actions just before the shooting.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton denied NBC and Shepard’s motion to quash subpoena and ordered that Shepard appear for a deposition on or before June 5 about statements that Gregory made to him in January 2014. The judge ruled that the deposition will not go longer than two hours, with a limit of one hour of questioning from each side.
     Journalists’ privilege was recognized by the Eleventh Circuit and protects reporters from having to testify about their news reports, according to Simonton’s ruling. She held that Perez has satisfied all factors he must meet to overcome the privilege. The officer has shown that the information sought is highly relevant, is necessary for the case, and is unavailable from other sources, Simonton ruled.
     “The statements made by Gregory are highly relevant to the defendant’s claim that his actions were justified. Moreover, the defendant has substantial information regarding Gregory’s change of his version of events regarding whether he adjusted the bat prior to the shooting, based upon Gregory’s deposition testimony in comparison to the statements made by the reporter following the interview with Gregory,” Simonton wrote. “In other words, the nature and significance of the testimony sought by the defendant from the reporter is not speculative, but is specific and highly relevant to the defendant’s claims in this action.”
     Similarly, the judge ruled that the information from Shepard is necessary to the case because Gregory allegedly admitted to Shepard that he reached for the bat only to deny that later in his deposition, and there are no eyewitnesses to the shooting. She also held that the information sought by Perez is only available from Shepard as Perez’s efforts to get other sources for statements purportedly made by Gregory have been unsuccessful.
     Simonton noted, though, that the deposition order is limited to testimony about what Gregory told Shepard about adjusting the baseball bat.
     “However, the undersigned recognizes that various courts have expressed concerns about the need to limit the extent to which overriding the privilege encumber’s [sic] the ability of a reporter to perform his First Amendment news gathering function,” she wrote. “With that concern in mind, the undersigned concludes that the defendant has only overcome the privilege to the extent that the reporter’s testimony will provide verification of the statements made by Gregory regarding his actions immediately before the shooting related to adjusting the bat.”