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SPJ is outraged by police raid of student newspaper in Virginia


For immediate release

Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 3004-367-4864,
Sue Kopen Katcef, SPJ Campus Adviser At-Large, 301-405-7526,
Neil Ralston, SPJ Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs, 270-745-5841,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists condemns the raid made by Virginia police and Marsha Garst, Commonwealth's Attorney for Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg, of the James Madison University student newspaper, The Breeze. According to The Roanoke Times, officers confiscated more than 900 photographs, over 600 of which were of the Springfest riot on April 10. The following is a letter the Society sent to Garst:

Marsha L. Garst
Commonwealth's Attorney for Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg
Judicial Center
53 Court Square
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
(540) 564-3350

Dear Ms. Garst:

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into the offices of The Breeze at James Madison University on Friday, April 16, 2010 and seized over 900 published and unpublished photos from the newsroom. We are especially troubled that your actions appeared to have violated the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980.

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.


Kevin Smith
SPJ President

Sue Kopen Katcef
SPJ Campus Adviser At-Large

George Daniels
SPJ Campus Adviser At-Large

Neil Ralston
SPJ Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs

Bill McCloskey
SPJ Director At-Large

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ 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. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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