Boise television station KBCI and its news director filed suit against a local prosecutor today, claiming that the search of the station's newsroom and the seizure of videotapes last weekend violated the U.S. and Idaho constitutions.
The station also asked the state courts for an injunction preventing a possible second search of the newsroom. County prosecutor Jim C. Harris had threatened to search the newsroom again unless KBCI turned over all the original footage of scenes filmed last week inside the riot-torn Idaho State Penitentiary. KBCI asked the court today to order the return of the seized tapes, as well.
The search of the KBCI newsroom last Saturday is believed to be the second of its kind in the United States since the Supreme Court ruled on May 31, 1978, that the press enjoyed no special immunity from court-ordered searches by police.
The first occurred in Flint Mich., where police searched the files of the newspaper that printed the Flint Voice, a small monthly. The police had hoped to find documents that might identify city employes who had leaked a report critical of the Flint mayor's activities in a reelection campaign.
Alan Hirvela, a coeditor of the Voice, said in an interview this week that his paper also plans to file a lawsuit with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Reached today in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he is vacationing, prosecutor Harris said he was unaware of the lawsuit filed today in the 4th District Court of Idaho. But, he added, he is "happy to see that the matter is before the court. I hope the emotionalism will be minimized now that a judge has the case."
When five Ada County sheriff's deputies and an investigator for the prosecutor's office entered the KBCI newsroom, they found it filled with local reporters alerted by station management. Authorities had given the station about a half-hour warning that the search was imminent.
In their efforts to seize exclusive videotapes filmed when rebellious inmates requested that a KBCI reporter and cameraman hear their demands, the deputies rifled through unlocked desks, files and cabinets before removing cassettes labeled "prison riots" from the station library.
The prosecutor said the videotapes were the "best available evidence" to show which inmates were involved in holding two guards hostage as well as who may have led the riot and arson spree that resulted in $2.7 million in damage to the penitentiary.
The station's policy, according to news director Paul Riess, is to resist turning over film that has not yet been aired to protect the confidentiality of sources and news gathering procedures.
KBCI chief counsel Peter J. Boyd said the "basis for the issuance of the KBCI search warrant was not adequate" because the judge who granted it was not fully informed of the evidence available to the prosecutor. "We should have had an opportunity to contest it, to present alternative sources of information and prevent the very thing that happened -- that is, rummaging through the desks of our own news people."
Boyd asked the court to rule that the search was an unconstitutional violation of the station's rights under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press.