An attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday said that giving journalists video of a marshal shooting and killing a defendant in a courtroom would incite retaliation from a violent street gang.
“Your Honor, the stakes in this case cannot be any higher,” the lawyer, Leah Brownlee Taylor, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul J. Cleary at the beginning of oral arguments Tuesday.
She told Cleary that the Tongan Crip Gang still wants to avenge the death of Siale Angilau, who was shot and killed April 21, 2014, at his racketeering trial in the same courthouse where Cleary heard arguments Tuesday. Cleary is expected to issue an order on whether to release the video sometime in the coming weeks.
Angilau’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Service and the marshal who shot and killed Angilau as he held a pencil and rushed toward a witness on the stand. Surveillance video of the shooting has been filed under seal in the lawsuit. The Salt Lake Tribune and a coalition of news outlets have filed motions to intervene in the lawsuit and force the public release of the video.
“They want the video because it generates more pre-trial publicity and it sells papers and it‘s salacious,” Brownlee Taylor argued.
Journalists already know what happened in the courtroom because both the plaintiffs and the Justice Department have described the video in court briefs, Brownlee Taylor said, adding that distributing the video does not outweigh the benefit of protecting law enforcement.
Brownlee Taylor said in court Tuesday that the government has filed about 300 pages under seal showing how the Tongan Crip Gang threatened law enforcement and planned to retaliate against them after Angilau’s death. The most recent report was from April of this year, she said.
No threats have been carried out, Brownlee Taylor acknowledged, but the marshal who shot Angilau, identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, had to be temporarily moved out of Utah.
Brownlee Taylor also has argued that the video shows the marshal appropriately handling a threat in the courtroom. In response, Cleary asked whether the release of the video would alleviate public doubts about the marshal.
Brownlee Taylor has contended that releasing the video would show the placement of the lone courtroom surveillance camera, which would constitute a security risk.
But Cleary questioned whether the security camera could simply be moved to another location in the courtroom.
“If the camera moves, wouldn‘t that change the picture — literally and figuratively?” Cleary asked.
Brownlee Taylor maintained that the wrongful death lawsuit should be tried in court; not the public.
“It‘s not the media’s job to hold law enforcement accountable,” Brownlee Taylor said. ”That is done in a court of law.”
David Reymann, the lawyer representing news outlets, told Cleary that journalists only want a copy of the video in which the marshal and jurors’ faces are pixilated. As for what the video will show, both the plaintiff and the defense argue that the footage proves their cases. Reymann said that members of the public can see the video and make up their own minds.
Journalists do not want the video to make money, Reymann said. Intervening in the lawsuit is an effort to uphold the principal of open courts.
“It has long been law that what happens in a public courtroom is public property,” Reymann said.
Cleary and the judge overseeing the case, John E. Dowdell, both sit on federal benches in Tulsa, Okla. They were assigned the lawsuit due to conflicts for judges in Utah.