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Newsrooms Raided for Suspect Info

January 7, 1999

RENO, Nev. (AP) _ Sheriff’s deputies armed with search warrants raided Reno’s three television stations and its newspaper on Wednesday for copies of an interview with a man accused of opening fire on Interstate 80.

``I’m not declaring war on the media,″ said District Attorney Richard Gammick, who requested the warrants.

``We know what the press privileges are and we’re not trying to violate those at all. It’s my belief that once a newsperson goes up and interviews a defendant in the jail about the crime, they become a witness.″

KOLO-TV News Director Ed Pearce said he was surprised and puzzled by Gammick’s move.

``Our feeling is it’s an illegal warrant. It violates the federal privacy protection act of 1980.″

Reno Gazette-Journal Publisher Sue Clark-Johnson and Executive Editor Ward Bushee, who at one point were threatened with arrest, agreed to lock its reporter’s notes in the publisher’s office until a subpoena was issued.

Gammick said he deliberately kept the wording of the search warrants narrow in an effort to keep the demand within legal limits.

Gammick said similar television interviews in the past had been erased before his office was able to review them despite his request that the footage be retained until they could be subpoenaed.

His office turned to search warrants on Wednesday because a subpoena can be served only after a court date is set.

``We cannot issue subpoenas until we have a place to subpoena things into,″ he said.

No time has been set for an initial appearance by the alleged sniper, Christopher Merritt. He was arrested in Las Vegas Monday night _ about 12 hours after allegedly shooting one man in the chest and hitting five other vehicles on the outskirts of Reno, forcing the interstate closed for five hours.

Pearce said that on the advice of the station’s attorney, he turned over a copy of the jailhouse interview with Merritt, but told the deputies that the attorney believes the warrant could open the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and the officers themselves to legal action.

KRNV-TV sent a copy of its interview to District Judge Edward Dannan, who signed the warrant, and KTVN-TV turned over a copy to its attorney.

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