Wick Communications

Guilty in court of public opinion

In Accuracy on January 5, 2017 at 11:58 am

be-fair

The story, posted on a television network affiliate website, makes no doubt about the guilt of the perpetrators:

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) — A brothel operating in a residential neighborhood was shut down Monday night. San Mateo police raided the home on West 20th Avenue, right across the street from Serra High school.

Neighbors say they had a funny feeling about the new tenants of a rental home from the beginning. Turned out, they were right.

San Mateo police arrested Jin Zhen for operating a house of ill-fame, also known as a brothel.

It had only been running for three weeks, but in that short period of time, business was booming. …

As for the prostitutes, none were inside at the time of the raid. …

Maybe that is because where were no prostitutes. A month and a half after the raid, the local district attorney has yet to press charges. In fact, district attorney Steve Wagstaffe issued a rather unusual statement about the case five weeks after the arrests, saying the police had work to do and that press could stop calling about it because he would let us know if and when charges were ever filed. A measure of how seriously he took the charges can be found in the paltry $2,500 bail and the fact that he said he would notify defendants by mail if charges were forthcoming. …

I know about this case because it’s in our back yard in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the truth is I see an awful lot of this. Suspects presented as guilty in the press before they are even charged with crimes, let alone convicted.

I’m passionate about treating the accused fairly and recognizing that anyone arrested is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. There may be extenuating circumstances. Charges are commonly changed. Sometimes they get the wrong guy. Cops occasionally trump up evidence.

And being fair is more important than ever.

Why? Time was, you might be arrested for prostitution and see your mug in the local paper one week, then it was gone. If you were ultimately exonerated you didn’t have to worry about that old story showing up on your Facebook feed, on background checks by potential employers, and every time someone Googled your name.

We have a particular responsibility in the internet era to make sure that if the charges are merely alleged to say as much. Those accused in the story above may ultimately be charged and found guilty. The public deserved to know about the raids and arrests. But we also should know if the pair is not found guilty, if charges are dropped or never filed. Not everything the police say is gospel.

I get steamed about this. Please help me be fair to everyone who appears in our news coverage.

Clay

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