Conflicted Feelings

I walked a way from Tuesday night’s City Council meeting on the “Sunshine Task Force Recommendations on Law Enforcement Records, and Police/Fire Department’s Statistical Reports” with conflicted feelings.

I am deeply grateful that Council Member Herrera acknowledged that victim’s rights advocates, the Santa Clara County DA’s Office, the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, and other vital stakeholders were never asked to participate on the Task Force, and I am very proud of the Mayor and the majority of Council Members who voted to ensure public safety, and victims’/witnesses’ rights to privacy by voting against the Sunshine Task Force’s recommendations.

However, I am appalled with Mercury News Managing Editor Bert Robinson and his supporters’ assertions that Mayor Reed was abandoning his position on open government.  Mr. Robinson and his followers completely discounted the Mayor’s contention that he was taking this position in the best interest of public safety and victims’ rights to privacy, as well as adhering to the recommendations of law enforcement experts.  Also disregarded were the Mayor’s comments regarding the concerns expressed by victims’ rights organizations, the DA’s Office, the POA, the State Attorney General’s Office, and countless other law enforcement organizations, all of whom opposed the Task Force recommendations because of serious and far-reaching consequences for victims, witnesses, the judicial system, and law enforcement agencies alike.  It seems to me that selling newspapers and pushing one’s own private agenda are the only priorities Mr. Robinson and his cohorts are interested in.

The most tragic and heart-wrenching occurrence of the night was the ghastly re-victimization of the Salinas and Pham families by a so-called “community activist” and members of his local organization.  He and one of his members unabashedly used the media frenzy over the Steve Salinas taser and Daniel Pham shooting deaths as leverage to pressure the Mayor, and Council into voting in favor of the Task Forces recommendations.  They attempted to further their own agenda with claims of police misconduct when even a civil grand jury found the officers innocent of any wrongdoing in the Salinas case, and a criminal grand jury just last week decided not to indict the officers involved in the Pham case.  The activist followed with a demand for the release of 9-1-1 tapes of the Pham incident with a promise that he and his followers would picket City Hall until the tapes were released.

As I pondered the horror of what those 9-1-1 tapes would contain and the pain and public scrutiny the victim’s family will most certainly suffer when these tapes are released to the media, I could barely reconcile the need for such a request.  I thanked God that these recommendations did not pass, so that the family would have the right to decide whether or not, after hearing them privately, to release them publicly.

I strongly believe that the action taken by the Mayor and half of our Council Members on this issue was one of their wisest decisions yet.  Families who have lost loved ones during the commission of a crime or are victims of violent crime are already dealing with unspeakable loss and pain. Police Officers involved in taser- or shooting-related deaths experience the same type of pain and loss.  We need to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to decisions being made on exactly what the public’s right to know entails, who will be affected, how they will be affected, and most importantly, the consequences.  Because someone’s professional reputation — or life — may depend on it.

Comments

Observations and Thank you Kathleen

Kathleen,

Thank your for your eloquent article. I am deeply concerned with the agenda that the Mercury News is spearheading in the name of “sunshine reform”. I have written about it before and I believe the Mercury News has it out of the DA’s office and the San Jose Police Department. This has been demonstrated in the inflammatory language used in its recent articles.

In my opinion the Mercury News has no respect or concern for the victims of these crimes and the tremendous effort it even took for people to report them. I have been on the street for sometime and worked with numerous victims and witnesses. The greatest obstacle is getting people to report what the saw, experienced, and felt. The last thing they need is the Mercury News and other news outlets reporting their names and locations.

It the “tainted justice” series that the Mercury News ran I read a lot of substance about the suspects and their plight and how the Mercury News felt their Due Process rights were disregarded. I did not recall seeing much if any of the victims of those crimes, their feelings, how the crimes affected them, how the crimes affected their family, how the crime will live with them for the rest of their life.

I have concerns with some of theses Council Members who believe all the information should be released. Apparently they or members of their family have not been victims of crimes, especially a violent person crime. They should take a step back and stand on their merits and listen to their constituents not media outlets, it is okay to say, and “I disagree with your position and will not allow it”. I commend the mayor for listening to both sides and making an informed decision.

The comment by “P.O” brought up a good point; the Mercury News consistently cites it “sources”. Why don’t they name those “sources” in the spirit of “sunshine”? The Mercury will not name them for the same reason Law Enforcement should not disclose them, their safety and protections. That is very hypocritical perspective “practice what you preach”.

I would formally request an investigation who is disclosing personnel information to the Mercury News based on their “sources”. My understanding that could be a violation of Federal and State privacy personnel laws. A fine example what the issue with Sgt. Manion and Officer De-Arigo. The Mercury News obtained information that the Department had started the processes to fire them before the officers were informed. Where is the accountability and protections for the employees? Where are the safeguards? That is not “Sunshine” it is “Sensational Journalism”.

Thank you and good day

...

I would agree to all sunshine clauses as long as the MURKEY news did the same. How many times have we heard. "Sources tell us" Let it all out! MURKEY News I challenge "YOU" to reveal your sources. We know you read this blog. Do not hide behind the Constitution when you need it. Your attacks are no better than someone who graffites the walls of our great city. Go sell your proganda someplace other than San Jose.

...

Kathleen,
The whole country is heading in this direction. The Mercury news claims are one way to try and drum up sales. They are against everything the Police do. I wonder if the Mercury news will be taking bailout money? They seem to be after All unions in the city about cost to tax payers with Pensions. This Mercury News reporting is failing. Tell everyone you know to stop the delivery of the Mercury. Do not shop with the advertisers. Once they become fair and balanced we might go back.

Nice Article, Kathleen.

A couple of things:

1) I have said this before, and I will say this again, I think it is a gross conflict of interest for Mr. Robinson, the Managing Editor for the Mercury News, to be on a city task force where news is created that his paper will write about. He is supposed to be in the business of WRITING about the news, not going about creating it. He represents the Mercury News, not his own views.

2) I am happy that Council Member Herrera acknowledged that victims rights groups and the POA needed to be included on these meetings, and that their input was vital to this process.

3) I feel for the Pham family, and I pray for them that they truly understand what it will mean if those tapes are released, as opposed to their family having a chance to listen to it privately. I am sure it is hard enough dealing with the tragedy their family has suffered without having society view this tragedy through the lens of our press, and give judgement.

I strongly agree with Kathleen's statement on the Public's right to know vs. individual's right to privacy. One of the Supreme Court Justices stated during a ruling that an individual's right extends only so far as it does not infringe on someone else's rights. That means you cannot run into a crowded theater and yell, "Fire". For me, that also means victims of violent crime have a right to privacy, and that right should be more important than the Mercury News' right to hear, and write about the Pham 911 tapes.

...

The Merc is only concerned with selling papers and stirring up controversy in order to boost circulation. Their thinly veiled "1st Amendment" rights speech is easy to see through when at heart everyone knows that if any further "sunshine" is let in on police reports, that accessability will be quickly abused. Once Pandora's box is opened, it will never be able to be closed..

Clearly the desires of the politically motivated few should never truimph over what is just, resolute and legal. If politics prevail over common sense in this issue, any victim or honest witness will continue to be on the losing end forever...and honest police work will suffer horribly. The Merc will also solidify itself in it's tabloid news status with new and inventive ways to cut, paste, and twist around officers written reports for all the world to see with no repercussions whatsoever. All of this to "inform the public", and keep with their anarchistic news reporting style.

Hopefully now that you have seen the true colors of the Merc's agenda Kathleen, you can spread the word knowing what they, and their little "activist" following are truly all about.

Nice job.

Kathleen,
I think your take on this speaks for a lot of us out here. The newspaper and these groups don't care about anyone but themselves. I even heard a few speakers talk about the shooting of the Vietnamese mentally ill women who charged Police that hatchet claiming she was a victim. Give me a break. Thanks to the story on this blog about that case the truth is out. Why don’t the five pinheads on the Council who want “public disclosure” so bad do something constructive like raise money for mental illness health care reform so sick people wielding knives, hatchets, guns don’t have to die because they are violent?

You are right. Just wait till the 911 tapes on Pham are released. I hope the 5 eggheads on the Council who voted against the Mayor enjoy the show. Seeing the Pham’s being hurt and suffering humiliation when people hear Daniel’s brother calling the cops begging for help because his brother slit his throat. Yeah that should be a real sense of comfort to the Pham family all right.