‘The SFPD’s punt’
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Freelance reporter Josh Wolf is sitting in jail while a federal grand jury, the FBI, and the Joint Terrorism Taskforce (JTTF) demand that he hand over his video outtakes of a July 8, 2005, anarchist anti-G8 protest. Is this really all because of a broken taillight on an SFPD patrol car, as the investigators claim? Or was that just a pretext for federalizing the local investigation?
The stated subject of the federal grand jury investigation was “alleged vandalism to a San Francisco Police Department patrol vehicle,” so the Guardian checked the SFPD’s chronological report of the protest. At 10:45 p.m. that night, the SFPD reported that “there was a police vehicle facing eastbound on 23rd St., almost at Bartlett St…. There were big pieces of concrete, shaped rocks under the vehicle. The right rear taillight was broken with a piece of concrete rock embedded inside the light panel.”
Wolf’s mother, Liz Wolf Spada, told the Guardian, “If the police are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Josh in jail and have a grand jury investigation, I’d be happy to pay to fix the taillight out of my own pocket. I believe this investigation is really just a fishing expedition, but the police are not willing to cop to the fact that they just want to be able to identify and name the names of the people involved in the protest.”
A confidential SFPD memo obtained by the Guardian shows that it was SFPD inspector Lea Militello who requested “assistance from the FBI/JTTF regarding investigation of a serious assault against a San Francisco police officer.”
According to Wolf, three days after the protest — and after his video was broadcast without his consent by at least three major TV networks — JTTF and FBI special agents Scott Merriam and Suzanne Solomon showed up at his residence and asked if it was his “habit to document anarchist protests.”
“They wanted information on Anarchist Action (which organized the July 8, 2005 protest), such as who they are and what their mission is,” Wolf stated in a declaration filed with the US District Court. “In seeking my testimony and unpublished material, the federal government is turning me into their de facto investigator.”
Wolf also noted that at a March hearing on his case, he heard “the government’s arguments that they are seeking the identities of individuals participating in” the protest.
Asked why she decided to seek federal assistance, Militello told the Guardian, “I’m not commenting.” Police spokesperson Sgt. Neville Gittens denied that federalizing the investigation was a deliberate effort to circumvent California’s shield law, which protects journalists from having to disclose unpublished material, and that the Police Department used the broken taillight as a pretext for getting help investigating the assault. He told the Guardian, “We were trying to move this along very quickly and the feds were able to do that for us.”
In a six-page Aug. 14 letter from federal prison in Dublin, where he’s been jailed since Aug. 1, Wolf told the Guardian that the laceration that SFPD officer Peter Shields sustained during the demonstration was “a sad and unfortunate incident, and I do not condone violence against any living creatures.”
Reasserting that he “neither witnessed nor filmed the alleged assault on the officer,” Wolf notes that “the subject of the grand jury investigation, or the reason that I am in jail, is the alleged attempt to destroy property that the federal government may have a fiscal interest in — the SFPD patrol car.”