KRCG TV 13 reporter Gladys Bautista did a story today in which she protected the identity of Pettis County Sheriff’s Deputy Jordan Schutte by blurring his image in surveillance footage taken from a nearby business when he gunned down 25 year old Hannah Fizer in cold blood. Bautista said, “we blurred some of the video because he is not facing charges.” Reporters like Bautista and outlets like KRCG are part of the problem when police avoid accountability. By failing to make it known that any officer who shoots an unarmed woman under these circumstances will see their face on the news whether they face charges or not, KRCG is allowing Deputy Schutte to avoid the kind of public scrutiny that he deserves.
KRCG TV is not legally obligated to censor footage such as this on their own accord. Their behavior is typical of mainstream media outlets whenever a police officer is accused of wrongdoing. We have been told multiple times in other cases that most TV stations will not name an officer unless his name is released by the government or he/she is criminally charged. A good example is the case of former Florissant Detective Joshua Smith. In that case we were the first outlet to name him after we were able to use public documents and information that had been released by the Florissant Police Department to narrow our list of suspects down to one person. We contacted media outlets all over the St. Louis area with our findings, but they refused to name Smith until after one of them asked the FPD if it was him specifically and the FPD confirmed it (https://copblaster.com/blast/25767/florissant-police-detective-joshua-smith-suspected-in-vehicle-assault). Smith has since been fired and arrested. We have since been credited by at least one mainstream outlet for being the first to name him. Others explained to us that their criteria for naming an officer suspected of a crime is the same as it is for anyone else, they need to be formally charged before they will be named. That is of course not how it works for anyone else at all. Whenever the police are looking for an unidentified suspect, the news will show images of the suspect from surveillance footage and ask the public to contact the police if they know who it is.
We believe that KRCG TV and other mainstream media outlets have a double standard when it comes to naming cops. We believe that the motivation behind this standard is that they do not want to damage their working relationship with law enforcement. TV news stations get more tips from law enforcement than any other source. If they alienated their local law enforcement agencies too much they would risk losing those tips and that would be devastating for their business. As a result they will not name bad officers unless it appears that the officer has first lost the support of his fellow officers. They do name defendants in police misconduct lawsuits sometimes, but not in a way that would conclusively label them as bad actors absent extenuating circumstances.
Where are the Documents?
In addition to blurring Deputy Schutte’s image, KRCG did not upload a copy of the documents or post a link to them in the article. As a result, we only know what a small sliver of them say and have to guess at the rest. Even that small sliver is riddled with censorship obviously designed to keep the public from being able to learn Schutte’s identity from those documents.
The only useful piece of information in the entire story is a quote from Schutte justifying what he did by saying, “I did what any reasonable police officer would do in that circumstance, and I shot.” That claim does not appear to be supported by the findings of special prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff. Sokoloff merely found that there was not enough evidence to support charging Schutte with a crime. He never said that his actions were reasonable. In fact, he said that the situation could have been handled better. Unfortunately, just because an “alternative approach might have avoided the confrontation” does not mean that a crime was committed according to Sokoloff, but it does not make Schutte’s actions reasonable either. Schutte’s statement seems geared towards minimizing his civil liability since to prevail in an excessive force case the Fizer family need only show that Schutte’s behavior was “objectively unreasonable,” see Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 576 U.S. 389 (2015) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingsley_v._Hendrickson).
Published at Mon, 19 Oct 2020 22:03:45 +0000