Court commissioner bars release of Seattle university shooting video to media

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SEATTLE — A King County Superior Court commissioner on Thursday issued a restraining order barring local media outlets from obtaining a copy of the Seattle Pacific University surveillance video taken when a gunman stormed the campus last month and killed one student and wounded two others.

Commissioner Carlos Velategui accused the city’s four TV news stations of seeking the graphic video to boost ratings. One citizen, Arthur West, also put in a public-disclosure request for the video.

“What we’re doing here is not of concern to the public,” Velategui said during the hearing. “The only possible interest of the public is their eyes will be glued to the screen to watch someone get shot.”

Aaron Rey Ybarra is accused of walking into Otto Miller Hall on the SPU campus on the afternoon of June 5 and shooting three students with a shotgun before he was tackled by 22-year-old student Jon Meiswhile as he paused to reload.

In addition to the shotgun, police say, Ybarra was armed with a hunting knife and carried more than 50 rounds of ammunition.

Ybarra, 26, of Mountlake Terrace, has pleaded not guilty to one count of premeditated first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault. All of the charges carry firearms allegations that could increase the sentences

Killed was student Paul Lee, 19, of Portland. Wounded were Sarah Williams, 19, of Phoenix; and Thomas Fowler Jr., 24, of Seattle.

Attorney Eric Stahl, from the Davis, Wright, Tremaine law firm, which is representing the media, said in court Thursday that the news outlets are entitled to the video under the state Public Records Act.

Attorney Brad Thoreson, who is representing the victims of the shooting, argued that release of the video violates victims’ privacy rights and could give a copycat school shooter some ideas. The graphic video shows the gunman shooting students and pointing a firearm at others, he said.

Attorney Michael R. McKinstry, who is representing the university, called the shooting a “terrorist” act and said the video’s release would give other criminals clues as to the capabilities of school surveillance systems.

Velategui said the video’s “disclosure creates a huge public danger” by instructing the next “crazy” on how to commit a crime on campus.

Velategui added that the release of the video would give local and national television anchors something to speculate about for weeks on end. He compared it to the nonstop news coverage following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 on March 8.

The restraining order will be reviewed and additional arguments will be heard by Superior Court Judge Helen Halpert later this month.

Ybarra’s attorney, Ramona Brandes, is also seeking to have the video and other evidence, including a request for Ybarra’s personal journal and the release of the 911 tapes, withheld from public disclosure. The Seattle Times is among the news outlets seeking the 911 tapes. Those arguments are slated to be heard before a King County Superior Court judge on Monday.