U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Chicago CBS affiliate ordered to turn over unedited interview footage

Incident Details

August 3, 2020

A federal judge ruled that a Chicago-based CBS affiliate must comply with a subpoena for unedited audio and video recordings of its interviews with a woman who is suing a group of police officers who she says illegally raided her home.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert of the Northern District of Illinois on Aug. 3, 2020, denied TV station CBS2 Chicago’s bid to block the officers’ request for unedited audio and video footage from an interview with the woman and her family.

In 2018, CBS ran a series of stories highlighting allegations by several families that the Chicago Police Department conducted illegal searches of their homes. For one segment, the station interviewed South Side resident Ebony Tate.

Tate alleges in her civil rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago and a group of police officers that at about 6 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2018, armed cops broke through the front screen door to her apartment without first announcing themselves or presenting a search warrant.

Tate’s mother, Cynthia Eason, 55, and Tate’s four children -- who ranged in age from 4 years old to 13 -- were home at the time, the suit charges.

About 10 officers wearing SWAT-team fatigues, helmets and carrying assault rifles swarmed into Tate’s apartment and began barking orders and pointing their weapons at startled members of her family, Tate alleges in her lawsuit.

Tate alleges that police had a warrant for a 20-year-old man who sold drugs to an undercover officer but that they had the wrong address and that she did know the suspect described in the warrant.

The officers left without making any arrests or apologizing to Tate or her family, her lawsuit charges. The family went back inside and found that officers had trashed the apartment.

Officers who entered Tate’s home were caught on body cam footage openly questioning if they had the right place, the Chicago Tribune reported.

After Tate filed her lawsuit, lawyers for the officers who allegedly burst through her door filed a subpoena for any and all notes or documents related to interviews with Tate and five other subjects of interviews about alleged illegal police searches.

The officers also demanded “outtake” footage from the interviews, or any CBS recordings with their subjects that were ultimately not released to the public.

In Gilbert’s ruling, the judge disagreed with CBS that the subpoena placed an “undue burden” on the station with regard to producing the requested materials and found that the unedited footage and other statements by Tate are “at the very heart of this litigation” and “clearly relevant” to the claims in Tate’s civil rights lawsuit.

Additionally, the recordings were made with the expectation that they might be shown to the public, Gilbert said — thus, there was no expectation that the recordings were made under the condition of anonymity.

“Plaintiffs' statements, captured verbatim in audio and video form currently in CBS's exclusive possession, are not only substantively relevant to the claims and defenses in this case, but highly relevant to possible damage calculations and credibility determinations at trial,” the judge wrote.

But Gilbert’s ruling thrusts the station into a role as a “gatekeeper” for information sought by parties in a lawsuit, according to one legal observer.

“This type of subpoena really needs to be a last resort,” Jack Greiner, an attorney for the Cincinnati Enquirer, wrote in an Aug. 24 column analyzing Gilbert’s ruling.

CBS declined to comment on the ruling and refused to state whether or not the station will file an appeal.

Lawyers for the officers named in Tate’s lawsuit and from the Chicago Law Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Al Hofield Jr., who represents Tate in her federal civil rights suit, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that federal law tends to have fewer protections for journalists’ sources than state shield laws, such as Illinois’ Reporter’s Privilege Statute.

“I think Judge Gilbert followed the law and was fair to both parties, including, indirectly, plaintiffs and their counsel, whose off-camera communications with CBS were also sought by the subpoena; Judge Gilbert quashed that part of the subpoena,” Hofeld said in an email.

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