Local Fox Affiliate Accused of Suppressing Police-Brutality Footage
Why Did Q13 Sit on a Violent Cop Video and Then Try to Keep KIRO from Airing It, Too?
A freelance videographer who filmed a Seattle police officer apparently stomping an innocent Latino man's head against the concrete and threatening to "beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you" says that Q13, the local Fox affiliate, refused to air the footage because station executives didn't want to jeopardize their access to police sources. Q13 sat on the footage for three weeks after it was filmed on April 17, telling the videographer that it would never be aired.
"I was told flat out... that this video will not go to air," says the videographer, Jud Morris. "They said, 'It is not that egregious.' Those were the exact words."
Morris believes Q13 rejected the footage because the station has strong ties to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and law-enforcement agencies throughout the state. Q13 airs a show with content from police called Washington's Most Wanted, which profiles fugitives in the state.
"Because of their relationship with police, they are in a position where they get scoops and stories that nobody else gets," Morris says. "They are just not willing to let that go, even if it means not reporting real news."
Because Q13 had told him they would not be airing the footage, Morris then sold video of the police incident to KIRO television. He says he felt like the public needed to see it. When Q13 executives found out that Morris had sold the footage to a competing television station, their attorney sent a letter and threatened legal action against KIRO, claiming neither KIRO nor Morris had the rights to it. Q13 news director Steve Kraycik says that Morris had been working for Q13, had been using a Q13 van, and had been operating a Q13 camera that night. Kraycik also claims that a time slip shows that Morris was on the clock when the incident was filmed. "It's illegal," Kraycik says. "You can't take the property of another television station—a video in this case—and sell it to another media outlet and then air it. They don't have the rights to that video."
Morris disagrees with Kraycik's account of the evening and says the video was his to sell. He says he finished working early that night and left the Q13 station in his own vehicle, with his own camera. He filled out his time sheet at the beginning of the week, he says, but he left before the hours were up because he was trying to avoid overtime. He says he saw a bunch of cop cars take off and decided to film the incident.
KIRO officials say they bought the footage legally. "We have signed documents from him to release the rights to us," says KIRO news director Todd Mokhtari. "He was clear that it was his equipment. He even brought it over."
The video shows Seattle detective Shandy Cobane, a member of the gang unit, responding to an alleged robbery outside the China Harbor Club on Westlake Avenue North in the early morning hours of April 17. Cobane appears to stomp his boot onto the suspect's head and yells, "You got me? I'm going to beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?" Another officer then appears to stomp the man's kneecap against the pavement. But officers released the detainee moments later when they realized he wasn't a suspect in the alleged robbery. Officers did not call for medical help, and the bloodied suspect then spoke to Morris.
"That story needed to be out there," says KIRO news director Mokhtari. "I thought it was newsworthy. I don't know why [Q13] would pass on this story."
Q13 says they hadn't aired the footage yet because news editors were still considering it. "We were in the process of vetting this story ourselves and had made no decision whether we were going to run it," says Q13's Kraycik. The claim that the station blocked it to maintain privileged access to the Seattle police "is simply not true," Kraycik says. "That is flat-out not true."
After KIRO aired the video on May 6, every news outlet in Seattle wrote about the video and linked to it from their websites. The story made the top of the high-traffic news aggregator the Drudge Report. "We probably had 10 times more traffic than we normally do," Mokhtari says.
Detective Cobane made a tearful apology the following day: "I chose words [during my contact] with that young man that were offensive and unprofessional, words and comments that not only violated the policies of our department but the basic values our department prides itself on."
At the press conference, after Cobane's apology, acting deputy chief Nicholas Metz said SPD knew about the transgression shortly after the incident, and they began an investigation with the Office of Professional Accountability within one or two days. But police administrators did not place Cobane on "administrative reassignment" until after the footage aired. Asked why the department waited to get Cobane off the street, Metz said, "We handle these things on a case-by-case basis." He said that "tension" had affected the "integrity of the investigation." The cop who appears to step on the detainee's knee, Officer Mary Woollum, was also placed on administrative reassignment, said Metz.
Mayor Mike McGinn announced the day after KIRO aired the footage that SPD and the Office of Professional Accountability are investigating the incident. Four days after the footage aired, the U.S. Department of Justice asked the FBI to begin its own investigation.