Judge seals video of fatal Pennsylvania State Police ambush

AP News
Posted: Jun 04, 2015 6:38 PM

A surveillance video showing portions of a fatal ambush outside a Pennsylvania State Police barracks will remain sealed after a judge sided with prosecutors who argued its release would re-traumatize victims and possibly incite more violence against police.

Media organizations including The Associated Press asked for a redacted version of the video, but Pike County Judge Gregory Chelak on Tuesday agreed to District Attorney Ray Tonkin's request to keep it from public view. Tonkin publicized the decision on Thursday.

The video was shown at a preliminary hearing for anti-government survivalist Eric Frein, 32, who is charged with first-degree murder and related offenses in the Sept. 12 ambush that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass. A portion of the silent, grainy video depicts Douglass crawling on his stomach after being shot in the pelvis, and a trooper dragging Douglass through a doorway and out of sight.

Though it was played at a public court proceeding, Tonkin argued the entire video should be sealed to avoid re-traumatizing the victims, their families, law enforcement and the community.

The judge agreed.

"In balancing the decency and respect to be afforded crime victims and their families against the public's right to view public judicial records such as (the video), it is clear that the initial consideration of trauma weighs in favor of sealing," Chelak wrote.

He also was persuaded by Tonkin's argument that it could be used to incite more violence against law enforcement and jeopardize police morale. The judge also raised concern that the video's release could hinder Frein's right to a fair trial, and threaten security at the barracks by letting an assailment know where its surveillance cameras are placed.

Media organizations based their argument on the Constitution's guarantee of public access to court proceedings. They said that releasing an edited version of the video would address Tonkin's concerns.

It wasn't immediately clear whether there would be an appeal. AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news organization is reviewing the judge's decision and considering its options.

Frein led police on a tense 48-day manhunt through the northeastern Pennsylvania woods before U.S. marshals caught him outside an abandoned airplane hangar about 30 miles from the shooting scene. He has pleaded not guilty. Authorities are seeking the death penalty.