DA Drops Demand for Video Feed of Thomas Trial

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Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has reversed his demand for access to TV and radio feeds of portions of the Kelly Thomas trial and will ask the judge to restore pool camera and audio coverage, KFI radio news director Chris Little said Friday.

Rackauckas’ reversal likely ends a moratorium of live broadcast and photo coverage of the trial that Superior Court Judge William Froeberg imposed after the Radio & Television News Association objected when the DA’s office made the highly unusual move of tapping into the video and audio feed.

It had previously been decided that live video and audio feeds would be set up for pool coverage of the closing arguments, the verdict and, if necessary, sentencing in the trial of two Fullerton police officers accused of beating the 37-year-old Thomas to death in July 2011.

“The DA told me this afternoon he will personally tell the judge on Monday the DA’s office does not object to our covering the portions of the trial already approved,” Little wrote in an email to Voice of OC Friday evening. He said the DA’s office won’t be able to download the feeds.

The DA’s spokeswoman, Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder, couldn’t be reached for comment. She previously said the DA’s office had a court order allowing them to use the feed.

The issue began midway through opening arguments Monday in the trial of former Fullerton officers Manuel Ramos, accused of second degree murder and excessive use of force, and Jay Cincinelli, charged with excessive use of force.

KFI newsman and association board member Steven Gregory saw an employee of the DA’s press office downloading the feed of opening statements by Rackauckas and John Barnett, Ramos’ attorney. Gregory asked the DA’s staffer to stop, because sharing such raw news video and audio is a violation of journalism ethics.

Rackauckas then asked Froeberg to stop the pool coverage, which was being provided to 15-20 television stations, including one in Japan. As a result, the opening arguments of Cicinelli’s defense attorney, Michael Schwartz, weren’t available to area TV stations, but Rackauckas, who is up for re-election next year, has video of his own opening statements posted on the DA’s web site.

A photographer for the Orange County Register, which was providing pool still photo coverage, also was ordered to stop shooting.

Rick Terrell, executive director of the association, said it was the first time in his 10 years as head of the organization that a district attorney in the Los Angeles region tried to gain access to a courtroom media feed.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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