The U.S. Marshals are investigating why a videographer accompanied Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) during a fugitive-tracking unit’s raid in New York City earlier this week, possibly in violation of federal guidelines.
A YouTube video showing the congressman joining marshals on a raid in Brooklyn was posted Tuesday afternoon through King’s official Twitter account. The video was on the House Homeland Security Committee chairman’s website as well, but was taken down Wednesday morning.
The incident raises questions regarding the complex relationship between the media and law enforcement and the level of access provided during raids—questions that are even trickier to answer since King is not a member of the media.
“I’m working today with the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force and they’ve already taken down two people in the Bronx and I’ve been able to go with them,” King said in the beginning of the video. The segment was recorded and re-posted on the political news website Talking Points Memo, which first reported the story.
King and an unnamed videographer entered the staircase of a suspect’s home on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, while marshals were executing a search warrant. King could be seen in the video peering into the apartment.
At one point in the video, the suspect can be seen handcuffed while lying on the floor of the apartment after the federal agents broke in through the roof to apprehend the man. The video also captured a marshal speaking to a woman inside an adjacent room.
The original video was taken down after TPM inquired about possible violations of federal policy. It was replaced Tuesday by a shortened, edited video of the raid that was also later removed from the congressman’s official website.
The video was also plastered with a logo from the canceled A&E reality series Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force, in which an “elite team” of marshals hunt down violent fugitives.
A spokesman for A&E had no explanation as to why the logo was used, adding that the tapes won’t be used for a future show since it has not been renewed for another season.
In the video, King is seen riding shotgun with Lenny Depaul, the chief inspector and commander of the Marshals’ New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force. DePaul was the star of the canceled reality series.
A call to King’s spokesman was not returned.
“Congressman King was invited by the U.S. Marshals to accompany them in a series of raids,” King’s spokesman Kevin Fogarty said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. “Everything was done in compliance with their procedures.”
The U.S. Marshal’s service released a statement through its spokesman, Jeff Carter, saying there will be an investigation into why the videographer was allowed inside the house.
“The policy restrictions which prohibit individuals who are not U.S. Marshals employees or Task Force Officers from filming inside a private residence are intended to be in place during all ride-alongs,” Carter said. “We are currently investigating this matter to determine exactly what happened in this instance.”
Media “ride-alongs” and pre-warning of search warrants are sometimes offered so members of the press—including the Long Island Press—can photograph or film raids as they’re happening, though filming is usually done on public property. The policy stems from a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that stated police can be sued if they violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights by allowing the media to film inside a private home.
“That could be a problem,” Susan Drucker, a media law professor at Hofstra University, said of the video. “The only way to cleanse it, is to get permission as it’s happening, or you cleanse it by getting subsequent permission” from the suspect, she said.
“Otherwise it’s going to be an issue of trespass,” she said.
The Supreme Court ruled that a couple could not sue law enforcement after authorities allowed a Washington Post reporter and photographer to follow along while executing a search warrant for a suspect named Dominic Wilson.
In the case, police swooped into the house and briefly apprehended Dominic’s father, Charles. A search of the house revealed that Wilson wasn’t inside.
But a Post reporter snapped pictures while inside the living room during the search. The pictures were never published, but the couple still sued.
In the Supreme Court case, the justices ruled that law enforcement were protected from liability because the law was not clearly established at the time of the incident.
“It’s not about the publication,” Drucker added. “It’s about the raid itself, it’s about the invasion of privacy and trespass itself.”
She noted that incidents like this could have a chilling affect that could lead to law enforcement limit offering front-line media access to raids in the future.