Sep 27, 2012

When do you name suspects?

"I don't know if this man is guilty or not, but why do they post a person's name until they are sure? It seems like all someone has to do is 'accuse' someone else and they are automatically guilty."

Earlier today, user grandmasgirl asked this question in the comment section below a story about a Vermilion man charged with public indecency after a student claimed he saw the man expose himself in a school parking lot. I thought it might be worthwhile to answer it in the Mailbag, because there seems to be some confusion about how we decide who is named in correlation to an alleged crime. Different news organizations might have different guidelines, but generally every newsroom has some kind of standard operating procedure. This is ours.

Suspects are typically named when they are charged. We try to be pretty consistent on this point, but of course, there are exceptions.  One is when police give us the name of a dangerous suspect they're trying to arrest. If officers consider a person to be a threat to public safety and are trying to locate the person, we will publish a name and description of the person to assist in the arrest.

The second is when a public official has been suspended from work at a government agency before criminal charges come through. For example, Alexa Nasonti, the Norwalk teacher recently found guilty of having sex with a student, was named before criminal charges were filed because the school district put her on leave. We do this with public employees because they are funded by taxpayers dollers and the public has a right to know what's going on with their money and their public services. If she worked for a private business, we wouldn't have named her, even if she was suspended from work, until charges were filed. If the district hadn't put her on leave when allegations arose, we would have had a to make a very difficult decision -- one I'm sure would have been discussed at length by the editors here.

On the flip side, quite a few people have asked us why we haven't yet named the suspects in the abuse of the 4-month-old baby girl who is being treated in Toledo. We haven't named them because they haven't been charged. When and if anyone is charged, he or she can expect to be in the newspaper.

While the details of the story sometimes make it a hard decision to name or not name a suspect, we hope that by naming people only when charged we're at least being consistent. If anyone has questions about why we choose to name or not name suspects in the future, you can always feel free to email me or Managing Editor Matt Westerhold and we'll try to provide you an explanation.

 

The Mailbag is a daily feature on SanduskyRegister.com. Every weekday at noon, we will post one question-and-answer from a resident. To ask a question, send a letter to The Mailbag at 314 W. Market St., or e-mail mailbag@sanduskyregister.com. Please include your first name and a location in the e-mail, e.g. “John from Decatur Street."

Comments

mikel

i am against putting out any names accused/accuser in these types of cases for the simple fact that it will destroy the lives of that individual as well as his family. if found guilty then they deserve everything coming at them. now, if it is found that this is a frivilous case this guy's name has been through the mud! does anyone remember the incident with the duke lacross players several years ago? their names and their families were drug through the mud!!! many lost their jobs and several of the players had their scholarships pulled. it then turns out to be bogus. to late for them.

my opinion, for what it's worth. either all names are put out there or no names are put out there until the judicial process has run it's course.

starryeyes83

Well, at least it's a clarification. A disclaimer on any article like that would be appreciated.

On the flip side; the cartoon image of Baby Face Nelson from Bugs Bunny the other day, in the hard copy paper front page was cool as hell! :)

Julie R.

Sounds like a very reasonable answer to the question.

luvblues2

I agree Julie R. Every media outlet should be held accountable to what it prints or airs. This is the DATA age. We don't need to know the person who gave the DATA as long as we can prove it.

looking around

This question reminded me of an incident that happened twenty years ago when I lived in a larger city, the accused was a father of five, a Boy Scout leader and active in his church also a small business owner. The event that led to his name being put on the second front page “local news” happened like this. After a bowling league year end dinner he and a few buddies ventured on to an entertainment district to have a few beers with their prize money. The district was known for streetwalkers that worked the area mostly consisting of small bars catering to college students as well as a few old men bars. The local police would occasionally run sting operations targeting the customers of the prostitutes using decoy police women. There was more profit in arresting the customers over the street walkers. As the jolly band of bowlers parked their car and walked up the street this poor pilgrim as John Wayne would say, decided to entertain his guy friends by asking how much of one gal as they passed but continued walking. The backup cops didn’t see the humor and arrested him for attempted procurement/solicitation. Being a slow news day it was in the paper the next morning, almost immediately he received phone calls from customers of his home and office cleaning service canceling their service. His children were ridiculed at school and his wife was threating divorce. What was meant as a comment in jest turned this man’s life to shambles in the coming days he was asked to step down from his Boy Scout leader position and his clergy asked for a visitation to discuss the matter. Two days before his court appearance this father of five, husband of one and friends of many went out to his garage and shot himself over the ordeal. He was buried four days later. I’ve often wondered what the outcome would have been if his name was not publicly published and he simply paid the fine and learned his lesson.

kURTje

Just as we post here (our opinions on subject matter) the Register operates as they deem proper. Facts are, any of us can come under legal issues with our speech.....hey its America, being politically inncorrect can be fun also.