East County News Service
May 29, 2015 (San Diego)--The Society of Professional Journalists San Diego Pro Chapter has issued a statement criticizing local and federal law enforcement for going “too far” when an FBI agent and a San Diego Police Department detective on the San Diego Joint Terrorism Task Force visited a San Diego City College student journalist’s home. The investigators inquired about a news crew filming outside the FBI San Diego office for a story about sex trafficking.
City Times, a student publication of City College, first reported the visit on May 8; an FBI spokesman and the college’s communications department chair later reportedly confirmed the details to SPJ.
According to City Times, Detective Dan Vile from the Joint Terrorism Task Force visited the student’s home when the student was not there and asked the student’s mother to turn over the film footage. The student, who asked not to be identified, later told fellow filmmaking students that she’d been advised warrants were issued.
“We urge law enforcement officials to exercise restraint when questioning journalists about their reporting, particularly when student journalists are involved,” an SPJ statement issued to media states. “This line of questioning is especially troubling as it was conducted at a journalist’s house instead of by contacting the college or student newspaper itself.”
Asked for comment, FBI-San Diego special agent Darrell Foxworth provided this statement to East County Magazine: "The FBI's core values include rigorous obedience to the Constitution of the United States and respect for the dignity of all those we protect. The actions taken in this matter were done out of an abundance of caution to address potential public safety concerns."
The college’s communications department chair, Laura Castañeda, has said it is understandable that the FBI would follow up on concerns, but agents chose to “send a San Diego Detective from the Terrorism Task Force to a student’s home” and “never checked with the College to verify whether these individuals were student journalists,” SPJ indicated.
The incident underscores the importance of journalism teachers instructing students about their rights and responsibilities to protect source material and how to interact with law enforcement agencies. “To use a police tape metaphor,” SPJ concludes, “journalists need to know where the line is to avoid crossing it. But they can get close as they need to get the story.”