Subpoena is sought for O’Neal photos

Tribune photographer refuses to turn over photos taken before the athlete’s death.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:37 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Opposing counsels in the Aaron O’Neal wrongful-death suit worked together once again Monday morning as they asked a 13th Judicial Circuit judge to subpoena 622 photographs taken at the practice where the MU football player collapsed.

Jenna Isaacson, a photographer for the Columbia Daily Tribune, has withheld the series of time-stamped photos she took at a preseason practice last summer, in which she captured O’Neal and the actions of other players and MU Athletic Department staff on Faurot Field.

“The litigants agree on the importance of these photographs,” said Chris Bauman, a lawyer for O’Neal’s father, Lonnie, who filed the lawsuit against 14 MU employees last summer.

A lawyer for the O’Neals asked Judge Gary Oxenhandler to subpoena the photos on April 13, but Oxenhandler struck down the motion, saying that although Isaacson had told reporters she would withhold the photos, there was no court record of her refusal to turn them over. Isaacson said at an April 3 deposition that she would not give up the photos, and with Isaacson’s refusal on the record, the lawyers filed a new motion to order.

Bauman said at the hearing that no confidentiality was promised to Isaacson, and since Missouri has no shield law protecting journalists’ unpublished work, unpublished photographs are not privileged. He said that even if the photos were protected, she gave up that protection by discussing them in several news publications.

Bauman told Oxenhandler that he believed Tribune attorney Jean Maneke plans to charge $32,000 to produce the photos. He said charging “the unreasonable cost” would be a tactic to avoid giving them up to lawyers.

MU lawyer Hamp Ford called Walgreen’s assistant manager Nicholas Dolan to testify about the cost of producing the digital photos. Dolan said that at Walgreen’s, about 100 photos could be put on a compact disc for $2.99.

Maneke has repeatedly argued that the unpublished photos should be confidential. She did so again on Monday and said she didn’t believe that when MU granted Isaacson access to the closed practice, university representatives thought that the photos would be used for purposes other than publication in the newspaper. She said the situation “inferred a promise of confidentiality.”

When he filed the $350,000 suit on Aug. 24, 2005, Lonnie O’Neal charged the defendants with negligence in their treatment of his son. Aaron O’Neal’s mother, Deborah, later joined the suit.

The Missourian reported that O’Neal collapsed at 2:39 p.m. at a July 12 pre-season strength and conditioning workout. A teammate helped O’Neal off the field and he began to have trouble breathing in the locker room, a trainer said in an MU police report.

A timeline released by the MU Athletic Department said that O’Neal was placed in the front seat of a truck and taken across Providence Road to the Tom Taylor Athletic Facility, and that he lost consciousness when he arrived at the building.

Paramedics arrived and took over care of O’Neal at 3:14 p.m., the timeline said. O’Neal was pronounced dead at University Hospital after efforts to resuscitate him failed. Boone County Medical Examiner Valerie Rao said that viral meningitis was the cause of death.

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