Multiple news organizations stormed into the apartment of the San Bernardino shooting suspects on Friday afternoon, and footage of the apartment — showing reporters rummaging through personal effects — was broadcast on live TV.
According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Olivia Bozek, the apartment is still an active crime scene.
The LA Times reported that a “man was seen using a crowbar to open the plywood-covered front door, allowing a rush of reporters, photographers and videographers to spill into the home.”
— Victor Blackwell CNN (@VictorCNN) December 4, 2015
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) December 4, 2015
— Kate Mather (@katemather) December 4, 2015
The media alleges that the landlord let them into the home, a claim the landlord told CBS was untrue. He says the media rushed through the door without his permission.
— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) December 4, 2015
The bizarre turn of events raises a number of legal and ethical issues for the media and the landlord.
If, as the sheriff’s department says, the apartment is still an active crime scene, the reporters rummaging through apartment could be tampering or compromising evidence. Although the main suspects have died, evidence in the apartment could potentially implicate others.
There is also the ethical question of showing the personal effects of a child and personally identifying information like passports, drivers licenses, and social security cards. Particularly amid a recent surge in harassment, threats, and violence against Muslim Americans, some media outlets have been criticized for broadcasting what is apparently the driver’s license of the suspected shooter’s mother.
MSNBC aired this from the apartment without the details blurred pic.twitter.com/4hcrQ0M7Cr
— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) December 4, 2015
There is also the question of whether the landlord had the authority to let reporters into the apartment. California law only allows the landlord to enter the apartment under very limited circumstances. The tenants in this case are deceased, so it’s unclear if those limitations apply. According to CNN, the landlord was escorted from the scene by law enforcement:
CNN reporters outside San Bernardino killers' home says landlord was escorted away by law enforcement, put into unmarked vehicle
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) December 4, 2015
An NBC reporter claimed Inside Edition paid the landlord $1,000 to get access to the apartment first.