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Angilau v. United States

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

November 29, 2017




         Before the Court are the Defendant United States of America's (hereafter, “Defendant USA” or “Government”) Motion to File Video Under Seal (Motion to Seal”) [ECF #12] and Plaintiffs' Motion to Unseal Courtroom Video and Modify the Court's Interim Order[1] (“Motion to Unseal”) [ECF #48]. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Seal is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, and the Motion to Unseal is likewise GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. After balancing the competing interests of the public and the Government, the Court holds that ECF #36, Attachment #8/Exhibit “F” shall be unsealed and made publicly available.[2] The remaining videos and exhibits at issue shall remain under seal for the protection of persons who would otherwise be identified.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The issue presented by the pending motions is whether a video or videos of the events that transpired in a federal courtroom on April 21, 2014, should be made available to the public or should remain under seal.[3] The videos show Siale Angilau (“Angilau”) rush an unarmed and handcuffed witness during that witness' testimony on the first day of Angilau's criminal RICO[4] trial. A Deputy U.S. Marshal fired four shots at Angilau during the attack, hitting him with all four. Angilau died either in transit to or at the hospital. Angilau's family and estate have filed this lawsuit, alleging violation of Angilau's civil rights as the result of the Deputy U.S. Marshal's use of excessive force. [ECF #2].

         The investigation that led to Angilau's indictment on RICO charges began ten to fifteen years ago.[5] In the early 2000's, Salt Lake City law enforcement officials became aware of a group called the Tongan Crip Gang (“TCG”). Authorities suspected the TCG of various criminal activities, including convenience store robberies, drug trafficking, vehicle theft, assaults, murder, and attempted murder. In 2007, federal agents began a racketeering investigation targeting leaders of the TCG. By that time, Angilau had come to the attention of state and federal law enforcement officers in Salt Lake City.

         Angilau became the subject of law enforcement scrutiny due to his alleged involvement in two crimes: (1) the first (“the 7-Eleven incident”) occurred on July 24, 2007; and (2) the second (the “assault of a federal officer matter”) occurred on August 11, 2007. In the 7-Eleven incident, Angilau and other TCG members entered a Salt Lake City convenience store and began stealing beer from a cooler in the rear of the store. During the course of the robbery, a TCG member shot and critically injured a 7-Eleven store employee.

         In the assault of a federal officer matter, federal law enforcement officers were following a Jeep Cherokee driven by Angilau. When the officers turned on their emergency lights and signaled the Jeep to stop, a passenger in the vehicle fired several shots at the officers' vehicle. The officers were forced to abort their pursuit, and Angilau and the others escaped. Later, however, Angilau and the others were arrested at a Salt Lake City home.

         These two specific criminal incidents provided grounds for multiple criminal filings against Angilau. In March 2008, he was charged in Utah State Court in connection with the assault of a federal officer matter. Angilau pleaded guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and failure to stop at the command of police. He was sentenced to one to fifteen years on the obstruction charge and zero to five years on the failure to stop charge. The sentences were to run concurrently.[6] As part of the plea proceeding in State Court, state prosecutors agreed to recommend that no additional federal charges be filed; nevertheless, federal prosecutors charged Angilau three times thereafter:

(1) July 2, 2008: In United States v. Viliami Loumoli, et al., Case No. 08-CR-431, prosecutors charged Angilau in connection with the 7-Eleven incident (Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence);
(2) September 17, 2008: In United States v. Viliami Loumoli and Siale Angilau, Case No. 08-CR-499, prosecutors brought charges related to the assault on a federal officer matter (assault on a federal officer, brandishing/discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence); and,
(3) May 2, 2010: In United States v. Eric Kamahele, et al., Case No. 08-CR-758, Angilau was one of fifteen defendants charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“the RICO case”).[7]

         Angilau was being tried in the RICO case on April 21, 2014, when the shooting that is the subject of this case occurred. The RICO trial heightened security concerns at the newly opened U.S. courthouse. The Court implemented additional security measures, including seating the jury anonymously. The prosecution's lead-off witness, a former TCG gang member identified only as V.T., was not disclosed until the morning of the trial. About 20 minutes into V.T.'s testimony, Angilau rose from his seat, grabbed a pen or pencil from in front of his lawyer, and rushed the witness stand. As Angilau approached the front of the courtroom, a Deputy U.S. Marshal fired four shots in quick succession, killing the Defendant.


         The Complaint, filed by Angilau's family, alleges, among other things, that the Deputy Marshal used excessive force to stop Angilau's attack. A Motion for Summary Judgment is presently pending with the Court, and it is that motion that prompted the motions to seal or unseal the courtroom video.[8][ECF # 36]. In the motion seeking to file the video under seal, Defendant USA seeks to limit both the public's access and Plaintiffs' access to all versions - pixelated or un-pixelated - of the courtroom video. [ECF #12]. Plaintiffs object to the motion to seal [ECF #14], and a coalition of Utah and other media outlets have intervened in the case for the limited purpose of opposing sealing of judicial documents and courtroom proceedings. [ECF #20].[9] On December 23, 2016, after multiple conferences with the parties and the submission of a proposed interim protective order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer entered an Interim Order restricting access to the courtroom video “as an interim measure.” [ECF #32 at 12 (emphasis in original)]. Judge Shaffer noted that Defendant USA was requesting two different types of relief and, after discussion of the applicable law governing protective orders, entered an order with respect to Plaintiffs' access to the video. Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs' counsel were given access to all of the video evidence submitted as part of Defendant Jane Doe's Motion to Dismiss, but they were prohibited from disclosing:

(1) The personal identification of any individuals present in the video(s) not publicly disclosed; (2) the positioning of the cameras within the courtroom and areas not covered by the camera view (blind spots); (3) emergency evacuation procedures for judges and court staff; (4) the positioning of court security personnel within the courtroom; and (5) any emergency response procedures of court security personnel entering in and out of the courtroom.

Id. at 12-13.

         The Interim Order also prohibited any public access to the video, providing that

Members of the general public and persons formally or informally associated with any media or news outlet are expressly prohibited from having any access to the video(s), any copies thereof, or the “visual contents” of the video(s), unless or until the court orders otherwise.

Id. (emphasis added). Judge Shaffer found that he did not have sufficient evidence to determine whether the video should be filed under seal, so his Interim Order also directed the Defendant to submit for in camera review “any documents, declarations, or other materials that it believes support an application of the law enforcement privilege” that Defendant cited in support of its Motion to Seal. [ECF #32 at 9].

         Defendant USA submitted those materials to the Court in January 2017 [ECF #35] and supplemented in June 2017 [ECF #67].[10] During a telephonic status hearing held July 6, 2017, the undersigned advised the parties and the (then) proposed media Intervenors that the Court would address the Motion to Seal and Motion to Unseal the courtroom video together and render one opinion as to whether the video should remain under seal or be made public in some form. [ECF #76]. All parties indicated the issue was fully briefed. No supplemental materials were submitted. On August 29, 2017, the Court conducted a three-hour hearing in Salt Lake City on the sealing motions. [ECF #88].


         The focus of the Motion to Seal, the Media Intervenors' Objection, and the Plaintiffs' Motion to Unseal is a group of four security videos taken during Angilau's trial.[11] The videos were captured by a courtroom camera operated by the U.S. Marshal Service, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding with the AOUSC.

         The issues presented to the Court are: First, does the public have a right of access to the videos described below? Second, does this right outweigh the countervailing interests articulated by the Government in favor of sealing? Third, if the public's right outweighs the Government's interests, which of the 24-second videos - pixelated or un-pixelated - should be made public?

         The exhibits that are the subject of the Court's analysis herein are ECF #36, Attach. 7/Exh. “E” (un-pixelated) and Attach. 8/Exh. “F” (pixelated). These exhibits capture the critical 24 seconds of the shooting. The un-pixelated video shows the faces of the judge, court employees, and security and law enforcement personnel as they clear the courtroom or call for medical help. In the pixelated version, the faces of people in the courtroom are blurred and unrecognizable. The 24-second videos do not show the jurors or their exit from the courtroom, nor do they show any particular emergency evacuation or security procedure. The videos begin with Angilau seated at defense table and end with Angilau lying on the courtroom floor after being shot. Each exhibit contains a copy of the respective video with and without synchronized sound.

         Everyone involved agrees that the 24-second video - whether pixelated or un-pixelated - is key to this case. The parties and the Court have all cited the video as the critical document in resolving this case. The Plaintiffs cited to the video in their Complaint [ECF #2, ¶32] and Defendant submitted versions of the video to the Court in support of the Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF #36, Exh. “A”-“C”, “E”-“F” and ECF #37 “A”-“C”, “E”-“F”]. The Court itself noted the significance of the video when it limited discovery in this case stating

The Court has viewed the 24-second video with audio, and it is clear enough to show what happened and in what sequence. And it is certainly clear enough to determine the events that immediately preceded the shooting, the number of shots fired, the timing between the shots, and which figure in the video shot Mr. Angilau. Assuming that Plaintiffs were able to obtain testimony that contradicts the video, it would be impermissible for the Court to credit such testimony in considering the defendants' summary judgment motions. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378-80 (2007).

[ECF #68, at 5-6].

         Defendant contends that disclosure of the video to the general public will endanger the lives of law enforcement personnel and compromise U.S. Courthouse security procedures. The Media Intervenors seek the pixelated copy of the courtroom video, contending that its disclosure furthers the goals of educating the public and building confidence in the operation of the judicial system. Plaintiffs seek release of the un-pixelated video.


         Defendant USA makes two general arguments in support of its motion to seal the video: (1) that the safety and security of those present in the courtroom that day - including Deputy U.S. Marshals, court security officers, the judge, and the jurors - will be compromised if the video is made publicly available; and (2) that the law enforcement privilege applies “to protect and maintain confidential courtroom security measures and law enforcement procedures.” [ECF # 12 at 7-9].

         The Intervenors argue that Defendant USA has failed to meet its burden to overcome the presumption of access to a judicial document, particularly one as critical as an exhibit to a motion for summary judgment. [ECF # 21 at 3]. The Intervenors contend that they are entitled to access under both the common law and the First Amendment. Id.

         1. Common Law Right of Access

         It is clear that the public holds a long-recognized common law right to access judicial and other government records. See Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). See also U.S. v. Pickard, 733 F.3d 1297, 1302 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222, 1241 (10th Cir. 2012)); U.S. v. McVeigh, 918 F.Supp. 1452, 1457 (W.D.Okla. 1996) (noting that “Records of all agencies of government have historically been open to public inspection under the common law of this country.”) Under the common law doctrine, judicial documents are presumptively open to the public, but may be closed or sealed if “countervailing interests heavily outweigh the public interests in access.” Mann v. Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1149 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir. 1988).

         The Tenth Circuit has held that, in deciding whether judicial records should be sealed, the court must first determine if the document at issue is a judicial document. A judicial document is a filed item “relevant to the performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process.” Bernstein v. Bernstein Litowitz, et al., 814 F.3d 132, 139 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 2006)). It is enough that the document was submitted to the court for use in adjudication; it is not necessary that the court actually cite the document as the basis for its decision. See Lugosch, 435 F.3d at 123 (citing In re Coordinated Pretrial Proceedings in Petroleum Prods. Antitrust Litig., 101 F.R.D. 34, 43 (C.D.Cal. 1984)) (“documents that the judge should have considered or relied upon, but did not, are just as deserving of disclosure”) (emphasis in original)).

         If the document is found to be a judicial document, there is a “strong presumption in favor of public access.” Pickard, 773 F.3d at 1302.[12] The presumption is not absolute and may be outweighed by other countervailing interests. See Id. See also Colony, 698 F.3d at 1241. If the document is a judicial document, subject to a presumption of public access, a court must then determine the weight to be given to the presumption. The weight varies with the significance of the document in the court's exercise of its Article III powers. Courts recognize that there is a spectrum of documents of varying significance that may be submitted to a court. Some are submitted only to determine their evidentiary relevance; here, the presumption would carry little weight. However, documents submitted for the court's consideration in determining the parties' substantive rights would carry a heavy presumption in favor of public access. See, e.g., Stern v. ...

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