Media Coalition Asks Court to Unseal Search Warrant Targeting Protesters Kept Under Seal for Two Years
Update: The trial court on Nov. 10 granted the motion to unseal but delayed release of the records pending further proceedings.
Case: In Re: Application of Media Coalition to Unseal Search Warrant No. NW20500854 and Related Court Records
Court: Los Angeles County Superior Court
About the case: The First Amendment Coalition and independent news organization Knock LA filed a motion to unseal search warrant records related to the September 2020 arrests of protesters amid a demonstration over Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s killing of Black cyclist Dijon Kizzee. Deputies arrested 17 people at the protest, citing them with failure to disperse, a misdemeanor. Despite the minor charge, the department obtained a search warrant to pry into the cell phones and digital cameras of all the arrested individuals. Two years later, authorities have brought no charges and the search warrant materials remain under seal, depriving the public of the ability to assess the conduct of law enforcement’s actions.
California law is clear: “[D]ocuments and records of the court relating to the warrant shall be open to the public as a judicial record,” except in limited circumstances. The First Amendment, the California Constitution, California Rule of Court 2.550(c) and common law all provide that court records are presumptively open. And court records indicate the strict legal requirements to maintain secrecy are not satisfied in this case, the motion states.
From the motion: “It is time to unseal these court records to shine a spotlight on whether the Sheriff’s Department used the arrests and search warrant to punish individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights on September 8, 2020 without probable cause for all 17 arrestees,” Susan E. Seager, adjunct clinical professor at University of Irvine School of Law’s Intellectual Property, Arts & Technology Clinic’s Press Freedom Project, wrote in the motion to unseal.
Date filed: Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022
More: FAC works to oppose excessive sealing of judicial records. See our amicus brief on search warrant transparency in a case in California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal and read about our successful coalition effort to unseal search warrants in the case of independent journalist Bryan Carmody.