Protesters march during a rally for black lives on June 2, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. A local prosecutor recently subpoenaed the news website and The Plain Dealer newspaper over their coverage of the protests. (AP/Tony Dejak)

Local prosecutor subpoenas Cleveland newsroom for protest material

Washington, D.C., June 15, 2020 — The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office in Ohio should withdraw its subpoena served to the news website and The Plain Dealer newspaper, and refrain from asking reporters to turn over unpublished material, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The county prosecutor’s office, which has jurisdiction in the city of Cleveland, served the subpoena on June 5 to both outlets, part of the Plain Dealer Publishing Company, requesting videos, photos, and audio recordings regarding “any potential criminal activity” that occurred on May 30, 2020, when large demonstrations took place in Cleveland against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, according to a copy of the subpoena, which CPJ reviewed, and the outlets’ editor, Chris Quinn, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

Quinn told CPJ that the outlets’ video reporting on the protests was already public, but that the outlet had photographs that had not been published. He said the company intends to fight the request.

“It is outrageous for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor to subpoena and The Plain Dealer for unpublished reporting on the George Floyd protests. Journalists are not obliged to turn over such material to law enforcement,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Compelling journalists to turn over reporting material undermines their sources’ trust and would set a dangerous precedent.”

The subpoena requests “any and all electronic, digital, or analog video, pictures and/or audio” from areas where protests took place on May 30, as well as “any/all follow-up video or interviews of witnesses that may include information related to criminal activity.”

The subpoena also contains a clause barring its recipient from disclosing “the existence of this request,” but Quinn told CPJ he did not believe that could be enforced.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez, who signed the subpoena, did not respond to an email and voicemail from CPJ.