Business News Legal Media

Journalists hit out at LA police response to them interviewing Suge Knight

By | Published on Wednesday 24 January 2018

Suge Knight

Nothing involving one-time hip hop mogul and Death Row Records founder Suge Knight is ever without drama. Two journalists involved in a TV documentary that will tell the story of the Death Row label and some its most famous artists have gone to court, accusing LA police of misconduct after officers seized files and demanded information.

Knight, of course, is currently¬†facing murder charges¬†in relation to the death in 2015 of a man called Terry Carter, following an incident that occurred near the set of the NWA biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’, which was then in production.

Journalists Nora Donaghy and William Erb interviewed the incarcerated Knight as part of their TV project. It seems that LA police reckon that Knight’s involvement in the programme may violate court orders relating to the murder charges.

To that end officers showed up at Donaghy and Erb’s respective homes seeking files. The journalists have also been ordered to appear before a grand jury to answer questions about their interactions with Knight.

The journalists reckon that the demands made by police, and their heavy-handed approach so far, has been inappropriate, not to mention in violation of the so called ‘shield laws’ that allow journalists to protect their sources.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Donaghy describes in a new court filing how police showed up at her home earlier this month. “One of the officers told me that I was required by the warrant to hand over my cell phone”, she says. “They also asked me for my passcode and asked me to type the passcode into the phone in their presence to make sure it worked”.

She goes on: “Believing I had no alternative and frightened by the unexpected arrival of two homicide officers at my home, early in the morning, I gave them my iPhone and the passcode and showed them it worked”. The officers then took her phone which, Donaghy says, contains confidential correspondence relating to various journalistic investigations.

Police also showed up at Erb’s home, serving a subpoena demanding he present himself to a grand jury for questioning within days. Lawyers for the two journalists say all this police activity represents a “shocking disregard of state law” and “is the kind of gross overreaching that California’s shield law and related provisions have been designed to prevent”.

The LA District Attorney’s Office has defended the actions of the officers, while questioning the extent to which California’s shield law applies in this case. But the journalists’ lawyer Kelli Sager is having none of it.

In a motion seeking the return of seized items and a withdrawal of the grand jury subpoena, Sager writes: “The notion that government agents can seize a journalist’s cell phone, force journalists to testify about individuals who provide information to them (or who facilitated such disclosures), and engage in draconian harassment of a television production company and its personnel is the kind of thing one might expect from a third-world dictatorship”.

The motion goes on: “California’s legislature and electorate, supported by decades of court decisions, expressly and emphatically forbid these practices. Consequently, it is surprising and disappointing that – even after being provided with the legal citations contained in this Motion – the DA refused to back down, forcing [the documentary’s producer] to expend thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees to defend the rights of its journalists”.

The legal filing then notes that all of these actions taken by the LA police seemingly relate not to the murder case against Knight, but to allegations he breached court orders by giving an interview. Which makes the heavy-handed approach of the officers even more inappropriate, Sager reckons.

“This is not a case where information is sought to locate a kidnapped child, capture a serial killer, or even convict an accused murderer”, says the court filing. “Here, what is at stake is the alleged violation of a court order by a prisoner in giving an interview to a documentary television producer”.

It remains to be seen how the courts respond to the journalists’ requests in this extra sideshow to Knight’s murder trial, which is also now imminent.