ALLENTOWN, Pa. | The defense attorney for the former drum corps director accused of sexual assault is demanding that a newspaper turn over its unedited video interview of his client’s accuser in order to prepare a proper defense.
George Hopkins, the former CEO of the Allentown-based Youth Education in the Arts, faces three felony counts of sexual assault for allegedly assaulting two former employees. Youth Education in the Arts governs the Allentown Cadets drum corps.
Charges were filed against Hopkins in November 2018, months after Youth Education in the Arts launched an investigation after about a dozen women accused Hopkins of sexual misconduct. He resigned his position in April 2018, but the YEA board rejected his resignation and fired him, citing the sexual misconduct allegations lodged against him.
Defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom had previously filed a motion asking that The Philadelphia Inquirer provide the full and unedited video interview with one of Hopkins’ accusers that it had produced and published online. On Wednesday, he told Lehigh County Judge James Anthony that the Inquirer has refused to provide the full video.
Bergstrom said the Inquirer interviewed Jessica Beyer in April 2018 and publicly aired the four to five-minute video. It’s clear from the video that it’s been edited, and that the Inquirer has chosen to show only portions of the interview, he said.
Bergstrom argued that the state’s shield laws do not apply in this case as the Inquirer is not protecting a confidential source or communication. Instead, Beyer is very much in the public eye, and the defense is asking to see the entire video interview, not a reporter’s notes, he said.
The defense maintains that the video is “very different” than what Beyer later told investigators and that the entire video is necessary to mount a proper defense.
“I want to see what else is in that video that is dramatically different than what she told detectives two months later,” Bergstrom said.
Michael Berry, attorney for the Inquirer, countered that the defense could interview Beyer on its own or cross-examine her at trial. The judge did question how the defense would know if the witness impeached her own testimony on the stand, if it didn’t know ahead of time what she may have said in an earlier interview.
Berry cited precedent in which a federal court found that the defense had not exhausted all other avenues for getting information before a media outlet was forced to hand over an interview. In response to a question from Anthony, Berry said the paper would hand over the full video recording for the judge’s review only, if that was the court’s ruling.
There is an interview with Beyer that is readily available to the public that will allow the Bergstrom to build his defense, Berry argued. Bergstrom reiterated his position that he can’t effectively prepare a defense without access to the full interview.
“The Inquirer is telling me I need to go to another source, and there isn’t one,” he argued.
Newspapers publish newsworthy items all the time, and they can’t be dragged into court every single time a defense attorney wants to know what other information is out there, Berry said.
The judge opined that this situation is very different than, say, a defendant’s statement to police, a full copy of which would be made available to the defense by the prosecution.
“It’s a very difficult question,” Anthony said.
The judge did not issue a ruling from the bench on Bergstrom’s motion. Hopkins attended Wednesday’s proceeding but did not address the court. The prosecution on Wednesday did not take a position on the defense’s request.
The judge set a Dec. 17 hearing on the defense’s motion to dismiss the charges. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Falk declined to comment afterward on whether the two sides were discussing a plea deal.