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Police get warrant for online commenter’s info in Stanwood assault case

EVERETT — A curious online comment about the shooting of a duck hunter brought police to the offices of The Daily Herald newspaper in Everett.

Detectives served a search warrant Thursday seeking information about whoever posted the comment to the newspaper’s website about the Jan. 1 shooting, The Herald reported today.

The hunter and his brother were in a 14-foot aluminum boat in Puget Sound, about 500 yards off Stanwood, when he was hit.

The pair determined neither of their shotguns had gone off, and the Washington State Patrol crime lab found that fragments removed from the victim’s leg came from a bullet fired from a rifle. A detective who inspected the damaged boat also concluded that the bullet came from outside the vessel.

Two days later, a reader commented on a story about the shooting on the paper’s website, saying it “was an accident, he wasn’t intending to fire he was looking through the scope, fired by accident.”

The victim’s girlfriend pointed out the comment to a detective, according to the search warrant.

The newspaper removed the post when contacted by a detective but declined to provide the person’s contact information without a court order. Instead, the paper sent the commenter an email, asking him or her to contact authorities.

Detectives later showed up with the warrant, and the newspaper complied. Among the information its system collected from the commenter were email and Internet protocol addresses.

“When people register with HeraldNet, we tell them their comments will be anonymous. Unless we receive a subpoena or warrant, we stick to that policy,” Executive Editor Neal Pattison said.

“In this case, law enforcement told us it was an active criminal case, and we generally don’t try to impede law enforcement,” Pattison said. “This is a different standard than we would follow if a source like this had been working directly with a reporter.”

The victim told police he heard the shot and felt pain in his legs, then noticed that a duck decoy in the stern had been blown apart.

He realized he had been shot. The men reported that they collected their decoys and headed back to the boat launch. The next day the victim had surgery to remove a bullet fragment from his leg.

Detectives collected it, as well as fragments from the boat.