U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Documentary journalist William Erb subpoenaed to testify before grand jury

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 17, 2018

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian/Pool

Rap mogul Suge Knight appears in court for an arraignment hearing in his murder trial in Los Angeles, California, on April 30, 2015.

— REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian/Pool
January 26, 2018 - Update

Court quashes subpoena of journalist who interviewed Suge Knight

Journalist and producer William Erb was not required to testify in front of a grand jury about his interview with record producer Marion “Suge” Knight, after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted his motion to quash the subpoena for testimony.

Erb and fellow documentary filmmaker Nora Donaghy interviewed Knight in prison for their six-part miniseries about Death Row Records, the rap label that Knight co-founded, while Knight awaited his trial on murder charges related to the hit-and-run collision that killed his friend Terry Carter.

In January 2018, Donaghy had her phone seized and searched by two police officers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She and Erb were then subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury about their interview with Knight. A hearing on their motion to quash the subpoena was held on Jan. 26, 2018, but the judge’s ruling was not made public at the time.

In May 2024, an attorney for Donaghy and Erb confirmed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker via email that the motion to quash was granted and the journalists were not required to testify.

Editor’s Note: This article and the incident’s metadata were updated to reflect the Tracker’s communications with Donaghy and Erb’s attorney in May 2024.

January 17, 2018

William Erb, a journalist and producer working on a documentary series about controversial record producer Marion “Suge” Knight, was subpoenaed on Jan. 17, 2018, to testify before a grand jury, according to a sealed declaration filed in court and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

THR reports that Erb and a colleague, Nora Donaghy, are documentary filmmakers working on a six-part series about Death Row Records, the rap label that Knight co-founded. The two interviewed Knight in prison for the documentary series, which is being produced by eOne and will air later this year on the BET network.

In 2015, Knight was arrested and charged with murder after a fatal hit-and-run collision on a movie set that killed his friend Terry Carter. Knight has also been suspected of involvement in the unsolved 1996 murder of rapper Tupac Shakur, who was signed to his label, and the 1997 murder of rapper Biggie Smalls. THR reports that Erb and Donaghy interviewed Knight about the Tupac murder for the upcoming BET series.

In a sealed court filing obtained by THR, Erb stated that he received a call from a police investigator last year who told him that he had broken the law by interviewing Knight in prison. Erb also said in the declaration that two detectives visited him at his home on Jan. 17, 2018, and served him a grand jury subpoena.

Attorneys for Erb and Donaghy have filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that California’s shield law prevents the state from forcing journalists to testify about their work.

“This is the kind of gross overreaching that California’s shield law and related provisions have been designed to prevent,” the motion to quash the subpoena states, according to THR.

On Jan. 26, THR reporter Eriq Gardner reported on Twitter that the judge overseeing the case ruled on the motion to quash, but the judge’s ruling was not made public.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].