Sunday, December 30, 2007

Duke Suit Story & Citizen Journalism

A story in today’s Durham Herald Sun , "New Duke suit puts focus on police", by reporter Ray Gronberg’s begins:

A lawyer's gambit in a new lawsuit stemming from the Duke lacrosse case promises to focus judicial scrutiny on the rules that govern how Durham and Duke University police work together.

Attorney Bob Ekstrand's federal civil-rights filing contends the investigation of a stripper's bogus rape claim went bad last year when Durham Police Department detectives improperly took over a case the Duke University Police Department should have controlled.

Ekstrand -- who's representing lacrosse players Breck Archer, Ryan McFadyen and Matt Wilson -- anchored the claim to a 2004 cooperation agreement between the city and the university that assigned to Duke police the "primary responsibility" for investigating incidents on Duke property.

The scene of the now-infamous team party, 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., qualified as Duke property because of the university's purchase of the house two weeks before last year's now-infamous lacrosse team party.

Ekstrand also noted that Durham's police chiefs have issued a standing order that city cops should let sworn campus officers "handle all criminal and traffic offenses that occur on campus property."

Ekstrand alleges that Duke officers, following policy, in fact launched an investigation of the stripper's rape charge but dropped it. He believes Durham police were preparing to defer until the city detective who wound up supervising the botched probe, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, lobbied to have it assigned to his unit.

Observers say the statutory and case law that will shape the players' chances of winning the argument isn't clear-cut.

Ekstrand has proposed "an interesting legal idea," said Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus Inc., a Pennsylvania watchdog group that prods universities to focus on safety and comply with federal crime-reporting requirements.

But Carter added that he doesn't "know of a single case that really talks about addressing overlapping jurisdictions" like those involved here and that addresses whether both departments "have an obligation to investigate."

He also voiced some skepticism about the chances of a judge going along.

"You could make the same argument for a sheriff's department" whose jurisdiction overlaps a city or campus, Carter said. "Absent blatant civil-rights violations, typically police do not have specific obligations to act on a crime or take a specific course of action. That's a basic tenet of law." . . .

Mark Kleinschmidt, a lawyer and Chapel Hill town councilman who once termed UNC's cops a "foreign police force," prefers seeing campus officers subordinated to or at least accompanied by town or city police whenever they're handling matters out in the community.

He regards that as a guarantee of ballot-box accountability.

Citizens harmed by a campus force "don't have the power of removing a chancellor or university president" and thus don't have much sway over the actions of such agencies, he said. . . .
Gronberg’s entire story is here.

I’m not informed enough to comment now on many of the issues raised by the suit, including some relating to police jurisdiction.

So just three comments before I move to something else.

1) Ekstrand isn’t quoted in the story and Gronberg doesn’t mention having tried to reach him.

2) Was it really necessary, even in a newspaper edited by Bob Ashley, to refer to the team party as “now-infamous” twice in one sentence?

3) Even to this layman it was apparent that attorney Mark Kleinschmidt was speaking about citizens holding police accountable via the ballot box. Well and good.

But the suit concerns laws, agreements and practices concerning jurisdictions involving Duke University PD and Durham PD.

So while Kleinschmidt’s comments are interesting, they’re off point to issues relating to the suit.

Now for what may be the most important news in this post: the citizen journalism involved with Gronberg’s story. Here’s the first reader comment that follows it:
Why was Sgt. Gottlieb, assigned to the Durham PD Property Crimes division, allowed to take control of a sexual assault case? There were sexaul assault specialists in the DPD at the time, but somehow a rogue cop from the property division was able to "lobby" for, and seize control of the case.

This was not a case of overlapping jurisdictions. This was a case of some parties purposely hijacking control of an investigation to pursue a specific agenda.

Where are our investigative journalists?
There it is. Citizen journalism by one Charles Wolcott.

Right there on the same Net page with Gronberg's story, Wolcott “joins the conversation” and asks somethiing many readers want to know: how was it that Gottlieb “was allowed to take control of a sexual assault case?”

In traditional journalism, that’s the kind of question good reporters and editors talk about in newsrooms and now on their cells. Often readers are not aware of the importance of such a question and that it needs to be answered.

But today a citizen journalist put the question out there at the end of Gronberg’s story and asked about “investigative reporters.”

I’m encouraged every time I see citizen journalists informing us and making it harder for “real professional journalists” like editor Bob Ashley to practice their “lazy-hazy” brand of journalism that winks and nods at the power groups in their circulation areas.


Anonymous said...

Does anyone really think Gronberg's going to go "off the reservation?" Ashley wouldn't permit any of his reporters to be reporters, would he? If he lets them dig too deeply, they might discover the facts Ashley's been covering up for months. And sadly there are no real reporters pursuing this issue today. Neff did some good work before, but I haven't seen anything from him lately that points to any investigative reporting. It's a conspiracy of silence between the USDOJ and the MSM.

Anonymous said...

What caught my attention was Carter's statement that "Absent blatant civil-rights violations..." This case includes 'blatant civil-rights violations' so as the suit suggests the Duke PD may have had an "obligation to act."