DALLAS — The ill-fated federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound has prompted new Justice Department restrictions on the release of advance information to the media regarding law enforcement operations, according to a published report.
The new guidelines, obtained by The Dallas Morning News and confirmed by the Justice Department, follow the Feb. 28 raid by agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms on the fortified cult home outside Waco.
A television crew from Waco station KWTX and reporters from the Waco Tribune-Herald were waiting near the compound when more than 90 agents arrived to serve federal warrants on the sect and leader David Koresh.
Four agents and six sect members were killed in the ensuing gunfight, and ATF officials have said the media presence helped tip off the group.
The journalists who witnessed the gunbattle have said they were alerted to the raid by sources outside the ATF.
The policy now imposed on U.S. attorneys and federal agents says media members should not be alerted before agents serve search or arrest warrants, The News reported in Friday’s early editions.
“No advance information will be provided to the news media about actions to be taken by law enforcement personnel, nor shall media representatives be solicited or invited to be present,” the guidelines say.
The directive also says law enforcement officers may ask reporters to leave if they show up at the site of an operation or the safety of individuals in jeopardy.”
If journalists refuse to leave, “department personnel should consider canceling the action if that is a practical alternative.”
The order was issued Monday by Justice Department public affairs director Carl Stern, said department spokeswoman Gina Talamona.
ATF officials have confirmed that a spokeswoman called two Dallas television stations on Feb. 27 to obtain contact telephones numbers, but both they and executives at the two stations say she didn’t tell them about the impending raid.
ATF spokesman Jack Killorin on Thursday said he was not surprised by the guidelines, which he said would likely be adopted by the agency.
“In general, we are guided by Department of Justice guidelines,” Killorin said.
He also called the new order “much stricter than before,” but said it was in the interest of public safety.
“Although I am a great admirer of the press, I have met very few reporters who are tactically trained,” Killorin said. “I consider it a reprehensive practice to go to a crime scene before law enforcement.”
The new guidelines were criticized on Thursday night by Nancy Monson, executive director of The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
“My first question is why would they do this? Is this their way of blaming the situation on the media?” Monson asked.
“From what I can see, the media had nothing to do with this disaster.”
Monson said the foundation would study the new guidelines.