Friday, January 18, 2008

Student moved for own safety ... and getting under my skin ..

I spoke to a source in the Akron Schools today about 16-year-old Ed Davis. He's the local teen who was charged but later cleared in the Cage nightclub shooting that left 18-year-old Shawrica Lester dead.

Today's ABJ article cites Davis' denial to enroll at East High School as district leaders championed safety reasons.

My source says that Davis' guilt or innocence was never a factor in denying him entrance to the school, but that future violence was the chief component to keep Davis out of East High.

"We had credible information that retaliation was not only possible but probable against this young man," my source said. "So for his own safety we placed him in an alternative school where more security is present."

This is the same case that has 17-year-old Tyree Feaster serving a long sentence for refusing to testify against the man prosecutors believe actually pulled the trigger. Although Davis was found not guilty, he spent six months in juvenile detention and now looks to get his life back on track.

If APS had allowed Davis to return to East High knowing that retaliation would take place, the district certainly could have been held partly responsible for what happened. Still, how will the students and parents at Davis' new school feel about having him in class? But on the flip-side, how is Davis supposed to take advantage of a "second chance" if he can't get started with one?


On tonight's NewsNight Akron (9 p.m. on PBS45/49), we'll discuss the case in Green and whether the students' inappropriate youtube videos should be covered as free speech. That reminded me of a great debate (more like a journalistic injustice) that was reported last month.

The debate centered on KMSP-TV reporter Tom Lyden, whose phone records were seized by police in Minnesota. Here's a snip-it from the Society of Professional Journalists :

"According to published reports, including the Associated Press, Lyden went to the police department with intentions to research the criminal record of a woman who was sitting in a car with a man who allegedly shot an undercover police officer last June. Under Minnesota’s public records law, Lyden should have been entitled to view a copy of the seven-year-old traffic arrest of the woman. However, he was denied by St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh.

"Lyden later obtained the document from a county official who acknowledged it was public information. He reported his story without naming the woman, who was considered a witness in the police shooting last summer. After the story aired, the police department issued the administrative subpoena, citing concerns over data privacy.

"In obtaining my phone records they basically opened up my reporter’s notebook," Lyden told another KMSP-TV reporter. "They basically looked at my notes. They have looked at sources. They have looked at people I have tried to protect."

"What’s crazy about this whole thing is that the police department wants to know which public employee actually followed the law by providing a public document that everyone is entitled to," said David Cuillier, chairman of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee. "This could frighten government employees everywhere, telling them that if they don’t go along with secretive, illegal agency practices they will be hunted down through any means and perhaps punished. Police should be upholding the law and good governance, not scheming to undermine it."

I gotta tell ya folks, the thought that police would seize a reporter's phone records in a witch-hunt to identity the reporter's sources is a serious allegation. It flies in the face of the laws that protect journalists' (and the public's) right to know and establishes checks-and-balances with our government.

Ten years ago, a police officer told me in confidence that investigators in the Doug Prade homicide case wanted to know who was calling me with information. They were trying to find leaks in hopes of preserving their case, which as a professional I can appreciate. The officer told me that at least one investigator had set a phone "trap" at the police station with my newsroom phone number so that if anyone dialed our Akron news office, they'd know it.

I don't know if they pinpointed anyone dialing that number, but if true, it was certainly a rare reach by police to get a glimpse of the journalist-source relationship. I'll never say whether any of my sources ever called me from APD or reveal the names of any sources on any story ... but I will tell you that it's a slippery slope when investigators -- especially these ones in Minnesota -- begin focusing more on squeezing the media than solving their case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOW- cry foul when the shoe is on the other foot!
Remember us crying about you reporters getting access to Concealed Carried License Holders names and information- EXACT same issue- privacy.
Guess it must depend on what side of the fense you are on.
Eric- I'm not complaining about you- just the comments and the comments that will follow from your fellow reporters.
I generally respect you balanced and fair view points. If only other could be like you.