The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

No Sealing of Police Body-Cam Video in Lawsuit Over Confrontation With Police,

even though the video includes a brief appearance by a minor (a friend of plaintiff's).


From Tuesday's decision by Judge Anthony Ishii in Wallace v. City of Fresno (E.D. Cal.):

Defendants argue that the Court should seal a police body-cam video that depicts the confrontation between [Fresno Police Department] officers and [minor plaintiff] Wallace. Defendants state that some of the individuals depicted in the video are minors who have privacy rights. Public disclosure of the video could have an adverse impact on the minor's reputation and standing in the community. To avoid the danger and harm that could come from release, sealing the video is appropriate….

There is a strong presumption of access to judicial records, including attachments/filings relating to summary judgment.

An exhibit or other judicial record may be ordered sealed if "compelling reasons" to seal outweigh the general history of access and the public policies favoring disclosure…. "'[C]ompelling reasons' sufficient to outweigh the public's interest in disclosure exist when court records might become a vehicle for improper purposes, such as the use of records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets." However, the "mere fact that the production of records may lead to a litigant's embarrassment, incrimination, or exposure to further litigation will not, without more, compel the court to seal its records." …

[T]he Court agrees with Wallace that sealing the body-cam video is unwarranted…. Wallace is aware of only one minor (who is his friend) who is depicted in the body-cam video. Wallace represents that the minor is seen for three seconds and is only seen exiting the apartment and walking into a public space. This is an extremely short period of time.

Moreover, the depiction of the minor is by itself immaterial and there is nothing inherently embarrassing about walking out of an apartment. Additionally, Wallace has represented that the video has been reported and circulated in the public domain for over two years. The Court agrees with Wallace that any possible embarrassment, as unlikely as that may be, has already occurred. {If the parties believe that it is appropriate, the Court would likely be amenable to a stipulation to file the video with the minor's face blurred out.}

Defendants have not submitted any contrary information that indicates that Wallace's representations are inaccurate. Therefore, the Court must conclude that Defendants have not articulated sufficiently compelling reasons that would justify the sealing of the body-cam video exhibit. If Defendants wish to rely on the body-cam video, the video must be submitted or filed in an unsealed manner and consistent with the Local Rules….