Here’s a scenario with which you are probably familiar. You write a blurb in the police blotter about some guy who allegedly did something wrong. Maybe it’s only a couple sentences. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal. Police say the guy had some drugs. Maybe he intended to sell them.
You print the arrest. End of story.
Only it’s not — not for the guy whose name is in the paper. If you work on the editorial side of the newspaper, I bet you’ve seen these guys straggle in from time to time to proclaim their innocence. The cops got it wrong. They planted evidence. I didn’t do it!
So what do you do?
I bet you try to check it out. At least I think you should. I think we owe the people we drag through the mud the opportunity to come clean. We should follow the charges through to adjudication. (Because we at the Half Moon Bay Review don’t have the resources to routinely cover court machinations that take place out of our circulation area, I long ago made the decision not to print names with most misdemeanor offenses. We do name those involved in felony arrests and we try to follow up on those.)
Last week, one of our usual suspects came to see me. He said the cops were out to get him. Again. I always try to be respectful to these folks, partly because I figure they are having a hard time and it’s the least I can do. I’m also aware that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you.
In this case, the cops really did venture out of bounds. Calls to the district attorney revealed that myriad charges against Osman Yousif were dropped after a superior court judge ruled he was subject to an illegal detention. He calls it “kidnapping” and I’m not sure I can argue the point. Curiously, charges related to a previous arrest – for allegedly having 20 pounds (20 pounds!) of pot packaged for sale – were also dropped when the government’s own expert witness would not testify that the pot was marketable. Is Osman paranoid, or are they really out to get him? …
It was another reminder to me that the police — even when acting in good faith — aren’t always right. Even though they act under the color of law, the people they accuse are innocent until proven guilty and we sort of owe it to them to follow through on what we report initially.