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Today's Carmel hazing update: how y'all are screwing up the police

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A few links for those of you who are following the cases of the four Carmel (Ind.) basketball seniors suspended for their roles in alleged assaults (sexual and otherwise) on teammates, three of them on a bus and one in a locker room. Here is what made news tonight, right before Carmel began postseason play in its own sectional. (In Indiana, everyone makes the playoffs, and every team starts playoffs in a sectional, as true today in four-class basketball as it was when Hickory faced Terhune.)

WRTV (ABC) — Carmel Clay Schools board president Jeff Carter says after the police investigation of the incidents is over, new policies will be put in place to encourage “more active oversight.” He doesn’t explain what that means, but it might be something like, “Coaches, get off your asses and see what’s going on in the back of the bus.”

WTHR (NBC) — Carter says school board members have received up to 30 calls from parents some nights. “I can tell you there are parents who are unhappy. They’re nervous about the safety of their children; I understand that completely. Some of them are downright angry… I would love to have the whole thing over today, but I also want it done right because we want to know exactly what happened. The Board will not tolerate this.” He also confirmed that security recording on the bus coming back from Terre Haute Jan. 22 have been erased, apparently when “school officials pulled it to review an altercation involving other students.” Said Carter, “The time between when we were notified, and when we could have pulled the disc out of there was so long, that there was already something else that had transpired and it had already been taken out.” The police investigation didn’t start until a month after the apparent time of the incident, which sent one freshman to the hospital.

City of Carmel news release — The city attorney explains why it can’t release more information that the two heavily redacted police reports it’s previously issued.  It’s long, but I’ll summarize: so the media doesn’t fuck things up for the police.

From city attorney Douglas Haney:

[youtubevid id="KsEhXE5IUCQ"]

Not the same Mr. Haney who runs the Hooterville phone company.

The City of Carmel Police Department is in the midst of a criminal investigation into serious allegations of abuse involving Carmel High School students. This investigation is being conducted by five veteran police investigators and involves the interview of more than 60 potential witnesses. The City is doing all it can to ensure that this investigation is carried out in a careful, thorough, and professional manner. The City is very concerned however, that its investigation could be unintentionally compromised, and future criminal convictions imperiled, by undue witness influence caused by rumors, blogs, and news reports.

Studies have shown that the memories of witnesses, and especially those of children, can be influenced and tainted by post-event information. This can occur in several ways. If witnesses observe an incident and then read or view additional information about the incident, they often integrate this latter information into their memory of the event. Once this integration occurs, it is often impossible to disengage the after-acquired information from the initial memory. In fact, studies show that up to 25% of witnesses “remember” post-event information as if they had actually observed it as part of the event. …

In addition to the risk of tainting witness memories, explicit post-incident information about the alleged assaults now under investigation can severely hamper our investigation. This can occur in two ways. First, in order to test the veracity of witness statements, a police investigator often withholds key incident information during a witness interview. If the witness can remember this withheld information on his or her own, this greatly increases the reliability of the testimony. Of course, this time-tested method of getting to the truth is thwarted if a witness already knows explicit incident facts through secondary sources. Second, although the City is taking great pains to respect the privacy of the victims of, and the witnesses to, this incident, the mere possibility of detailed media coverage of police interviews will– and already has — caused witnesses to reconsider stepping forward with information that is vital to this investigation and to a later successful prosecution.

Moreover, it is important to follow a process for determining guilt that does not pre-judge a suspect. Our judicial system is one of the traditions that make the United States different than most other countries. We do not try cases in the media. We do not convict on the basis of rumor, unsubstantiated statements and innuendo. We convict only upon proof of guilt as the result of a trial process that protects the rights of the accused. That is our history and our tradition. We should not disregard it, particularly in a case that involves our most important asset: our children.

The City understands the desire of the media to learn the facts surrounding these incidents as quickly as possible. However, it asks the media to also consider the need of the Carmel Police Department to conduct its investigation without witness influence, intimidation or interference. Rumors, sensationalism and misinformation only hamper this process, and provide a good defense attorney with arguments that credible witness testimony has been unduly influenced by post-incident information. As serious as these allegations are, it would be absolutely tragic if any perpetrators proved to have committed these crimes were to escape justice due to the inadmissibility or unavailability of vital eyewitness evidence.

On behalf of the media, I’ll take the apparently humongous risk that Carmel police are competent enough at their jobs to figure out how to get reliable information even with big, bad reporters sniffing around. It would be absolutely tragic if any prepetrators proved to have committed these crimes to escape justice due to the inability of police to not be afraid of reporters’ shadows.

ALSO: Fox 59 in Indianapolis quotes a local defense attorney regarding the Carmel statement about how the media could screw up witnesses.

“I have never seen a situation where media attention of a case causes a witness to change their story. I think the parents, the coaches, the administrators – those are the people who will influence what the story is,” said [Todd] Woodmansee.

Woodmansee says he believes the way Carmel officials are handling the case is perpetuating the story, and not the media.

“It’s fascinating to me that Carmel would go through such great lengths to try and prevent the media from getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular case,” said Woodmansee.

By the way, Fox 59 has a new reporter on the Carmel story: Julie Loncich, in for Kim King. I’m not sure whether this is permanent arrangement, though I wouldn’t blame the station for taking King off the story, despite her breaking news such as the first interview with one of parents of the hazing victims, after she had apologize on-air for making a tasteless comment to a cellphone-camera wielding Carmel student who was goading her.

Written by rkcookjr

March 2, 2010 at 9:39 pm

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