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Media Organizations Support Journalist's Fight To Protect His Sources In Laquan McDonald Murder Trial

A group of 18 media companies argue that forcing the journalist who made the Laquan McDonald shooting video public to testify in court would violate the reporter's rights.

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In this still image taken from a police vehicle dash camera released by the Chicago Police Department on Nov. 24, 2015, Laquan McDonald falls to the ground after being shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Several of the country’s largest media organizations filed a motion Tuesday in support of the independent journalist who unearthed the Laquan McDonald shooting video and is now being pressured to reveal his sources by the former Chicago police officer charged with murder in McDonald’s death.

Chicago journalist Jamie Kalven, who sued the City of Chicago, which prompted the video’s release, has been subpoenaed and called to appear at a pretrial hearing by Jason Van Dyke, the former officer facing murder charges, the New York Times reports.

Van Dyke’s lawyers are seeking to learn the name of the source who tipped Kalven off, allowing him to publish a groundbreaking story on the shooting prior to the video being made public.

Kalven filed a motion to quash the subpoena, calling Van Dyke’s effort to identify his source an “unjustified fishing expedition” in legal filings.

“The one thing that I’m clear about is that I’m not revealing my sources,” Kalven told the Times.

Seventeen-year-old McDonald was shot and killed by police on Oct. 20, 2014. The Chicago police department initially said he was armed with a knife and lunged at police when the shooting occurred.

In January 2015, Kalven obtained the autopsy report, which showed McDonald had been shot 16 times. In February 2015, Kalven published the story “Sixteen Shots” in Slate, which revealed the autopsy information and raised questions about the police department’s narrative of what happened.

Later that year, in November, a Chicago judge ordered police to release the video, which showed that McDonald was shot as he was walking away from officers. Outrage over the video spurred massive protests in the city. CPD Superintendent Gerry McCarthy was later forced to resign. Seven other CPD officers were fired for their roles in an alleged cover-up of the shooting. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder.

Two years later, Van Dyke is still waiting for a trial date to be set.

The brief supporting Kalven’s motion to quash the subpoena was filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and signed by 18 media organizations including the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune Company, First Look Media, BuzzFeed, and the Gannett Company.

“The public interest in protecting confidential sources is particularly compelling in this case,” the brief reads. “Kalven’s reporting exposed misconduct by the Chicago Police Department and an official cover-up that led to a public accounting and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

In the brief, the media organizations argue that the Illinois Reporter’s Privilege Act protects Kalven from being forced to testify.

“This story is a perfect example of why reporters must be able to protect confidential sources,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a press release. “Without the sources in this case, the public may never have known how McDonald died, or how the Chicago Police Department investigated the shooting, information that is necessary for the public to hold government and law enforcement accountable.”

Van Dyke filed an opposition to Kalven’s motion to quash. That filing is sealed.


Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Mike Hayes at mike@buzzfeed.com.

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