Monthly Archives: September 2011

History Should Never Be Sanitized – Release Bin Laden’s Death Photos

Osama Bin Laden

I may be wrong and perhaps you may prove me so, but for cathartic reasons I must write about the non-disclosure of the Bin Laden death photos.

As a journalist, it is in my inherent nature to call for a full disclosure of documented facts and transparency within our government, even if people who side with the government don’t like it.

Journalists also have a duty to protect history as it’s made.

History should never be sanitized.

I understand the argument that releasing the death photos could inflame the small percentage of religious fanatics.  Whatever.  The fanatics are always inflamed.  They’re fanatics.  Something else is bound to come up in a few months that will rile them up, photos or no photos.

“A threat to national security” is an all too common government refuge and a platitude long worn out by public officials.

The White House needs to do the right thing and show the world it killed Bin Laden.

Keeping the photos in the dark is a betrayal to world history and a betrayal to future generations who must know what Bin Laden did and must see the nature of  his final demise.

History is more credible with proof of fact and photographic evidence even if that documentation is gruesome and offensive.

100 years from now when we are all dead, I’d rather have a history teacher hold up photo of a dead Bin Laden rather than just recite an account out of text.

How many times have you seen JFK’s assassination, the bodies of soldiers on the battlefield from the Civil War era, or photographs of gruesome hangings from the early 1900’s?

Ten years ago we had to watch planes hit the Twin Towers in horror and we had to watch people jump to their deaths from the burning buildings.

We’ve had to see the flag draped caskets of soldiers.

We’ve all had to undergo ridiculous security measures at the airport and in many cases we’ve had to watch our government lie and abuse its power in the name of the War on Terror.

I think we can tolerate the image of a terrorist with a bullet through the head.

We should be more horrified at censorship out of fear.

The Fraud – How Much Has Been Missed?

CDOT Supervisor Kelly Iiams resigned under allegations of gas card fraud.

After exposing two cases of fraud within CDOT involving gas cards, I can only imagine the fraud that existed in the past that will never be found.

This month I revealed CDOT paid more than $30,000 on lost gas card and in another case, a department supervisor resigned (see photo) amid accusations of racking up $7,000 on a card.

While CDOT deserves credit for finding these fraud cases thanks to recent self-audits, it certainly does not deserve any praise for how it failed to watch your tax dollars in the past.

The state admits it did a horrible job of watching its gas cards and promises it’s been putting tighter controls in place.  Those tighter controls only started coming into place a year-and-a-half ago.

Oversight should have started the day when the state first started using fuel cards (years ago I assume).

Without a doubt, dubious employees who will never be caught have taken advantage of the of oversight.

And with CDOT spending seven million dollars in gas on its fleet per year, who knows how much fraud over the years the state missed?

How much of our tax dollars ended up in the wrong gas tank?

We’ll never know.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an investigative journalist, the drive within government to find waste and abuse is not as imperative as it is within the private sector.

Our taxes continuously fund agency budgets.  The government makes money regardless of the quality of service it provides.   Rooting out fraud and abuse is often not a priority with a guaranteed flow of income.

Brother: Jeff Ford Not a Monster

Jeff Ford, a cage fighter whose DNA is linked to unsolved rapes,  remains behind bars under a $500,000 bond.  He doesn’t have another court date until the middle of October.

While he has refused to go on the record about this case, his brother is speaking out.

A day after my report, James Clinton posted this on my Facebook page:

Ford's Brother Speaking Out

This is the first time someone has spoken on Ford’s behalf.   Ford’s girlfriend hasn’t responded to my emails, and as I mentioned in my report, Ford himself declined to go on camera or on the record.  I even reached out to Ford’s public defender who said she couldn’t speak for him unless he gave her permission.

Dumped out of Live Shot & Called 911

The irony here is impossible to ignore.

While covering a story about students uploading fights to YouTube,  a massive fight involving several people at a skate park broke out next to our live truck right after I tossed to my recorded segment.   We planned to tag out live normally, but that didn’t happen.

Even about an hour before the news, a woman came up to us expressing disappointment at our presence at the park saying we were putting the place in a bad light.   She insisted nothing violent happens at the park….ever.

We absolutely didn’t expect any fight.  We just wanted a neutral backdrop with teens at night.  What better place than a skate park?

The 9pm report went as planned but the 10 o’clock broadcast was interrupted.

One of the aggressors began egging people on next to our live truck.  He was just a few feet away from me.  As soon as the photographer made the call to end the live shot,  I ran to the truck to call 911.  Right at that moment a teenage boy hit a girl on the head with a skateboard who was already on the ground.

The handful of perpetrators who were taunting and egging the crowd of 40 or 50 teens ran off.   I was able to approach the girl who was hit on the head while I was on the phone with the 911 operator.

She didn’t want medical attention and took off herself.

Police arrived in the middle of my 911 call.  Dispatch received several calls around the same time, it seems.

The officer who spoke with me after everything calmed down was cordial.  They tried looking for victims, but the park cleared out once police arrived.  Without the victims and their statements, the officer didn’t sound confident anybody would be charged.

Upskirting – A Video Voyeurism Crime Hard to Track

This 58 year old man admits in court documents to upksirting. More on his case tonight.

Perhaps you’ve heard about “upskirting” or “downblousing.”

It’s quite a difficult crime to track because, often, victims are oblivious they are actually victims.

The crime occurs when someone uses a cell phone or some other type of camera to secretly record intimate areas of a person.   Images can be uploaded to upskirting websites or exchanged among upskirting circles.

Upskirting crimes can take place at shopping malls and grocery stores where perpetrators  target unsuspecting women riding up escalators and sitting on benches.

As a reporter I’ve seen more and more of these cases surface over the years as cell phone cameras become more prevalent and enable quick clandestine video recording.  Here’s a case I profiled in Albuquerque (with security camera video)  just before my move to Denver.

So how serious is this crime?  Can it lead to more sex crimes?  What can women do to protect themselves?  How tough is Colorado law on upskirting/video voyeurism.

Tonight at 9 and 10 on 9News,  I’ll be answering those questions while profiling a recent case in the Denver area.  The man on the left is accused of  secretly photographing  women at two grocery stores over a period of months.    In court records he makes some pretty straight forward confessions about why he did it.

We’ll also hear from a licensed clinical therapist who’s worked with sex offenders over the last 16 years.  She has some interesting perspectives on an old crime (peeping tom) using new technology.

One Month So Far…

Today is my one-month mark at 9News.  I’ve done several stories that I’ve enjoyed working on, including my favorite: the missing government gas card fiasco.  I intend to follow up with that story until the case is adjudicated.   The story hit a nerve with viewers too, with many of them commenting online.  Even a local radio station picked up the story for a morning talk show.

After working in Albuquerque for the past nine years as a journalist, here are some of my personal anecdotes regarding the difference in news gathering in Colorado.

Information is More Expensive

-The cost to copy documents at local district courts is higher.  I’ve been hit with “search fees” as high as $5.00 just to get my hands on a document.  I was charged an extra $15.00 for a clerk to redact personal information from an arrest affidavit.  This took an hour for the clerk to black out lines in the documents.   I’ve noticed prices differ form court to court.  This concerns me.

I’m not sure if these costs are the norm or if the courts are looking to add extra fees in light of budget cuts.  I plan to research this.  I hope these fees aren’t arbitrary in nature.

Many Jurisdictions

-I’m used to working with one local jurisdiction.  With five large counties in the Denver area, getting to know clerks at multiple courthouse houses will take time.   This goes the same for law enforcement agencies.  With so many municipalities surrounding Denver, it will take some time getting to remember names and who’s who in the law enforcement community.

Crime and Law Enforcement

-From what I’ve encountered so far, law enforcement agencies recognize the benefits of talking about cases publicly, especially when a case is unsolved.  But then again, I’ve only worked with a handful of agencies. I haven’t worked with all of them.

The crime here in Denver certainly feels different.  Crime doesn’t constantly dominate headlines here.  There isn’t an endless parade of felons dressed in orange jumpsuits on the news either.   When crime is covered, in many cases, journalists put things into perspective when possible by offering stats.

Government Transparencey

-I’ve filed a dozen or so records requests over my first month here, and so far there haven’t been any major issues with agencies replying to me.  I did have to follow up with a coroner’s office that failed to respond to a records request.  They apologized.  I’ve also noticed some local agencies, for the most part, are pretty good about putting things online, like government spending reports, contracts and employee salaries.

One thing I don’t like is the number of exemptions in the Colorado Open Records Act that local agencies can claim when providing public records.  There’s quite a few that legislators stuck in there when drafting and/or amending the act.   I suspect this will definitely become an obstacle down the line as I file more records requests.

I’m loving my job here in Denver and I’m still learning a lot about how local government works.  For the most part things are organized similarly when it comes to the structure of state and county governments.

It’s been a great month.   Here’s to the next one!

10 Years Ago

I was 22 years old and working as a reporter for KTSM in El Paso, Texas.

It was a Tuesday and it was my day off.  My roommate left early in the morning and I was still in bed.   The TV in the living room was on and I could hear what sounded like very intense delivery from Matt Lauer.

I got up and saw the images on television.   My heart raced and I instantly knew right then and there at that very moment everything about our country was going to be different.  I feared the change.

That day I ended up doing live shots at blood donation centers around town.  The lines of people donating blood was phenomenal.   Strangers spoke among themselves  and were quite cordial to eachother.  They shared their disbelief, their fear and their anger.  Everyone was patriotic.   U.S. Flags suddenly appeared on cars, home windows and on the front doors of businesses around town……everywhere they appeared.

I remember riding around in the news unit with a photographer and listening to the radio reports come in from New York.   The photographer turned to me and said, “You will remember this day for the rest of your life.  Always.”

 

 

$30,000 in Gas Stolen and Only Misdemeanor Charges

Keith Kendrick, accused of using a lost CDOT gas card.

More than $30,000 dollars in gas stolen through a lost government fuel card and so far the one suspect that has been charged is facing two misdemeanors relating to the theft.

For the background on my story, click here.

Shoplifting in Colorado is a misdemeanor charge.  Is $30,000 on the same level?

Definitely not.

What matters in this case is what prosecutors and investigators can prove.

In my report, I mentioned how investigators documented Keith Kendrick pumping gas on camera with the lost CDOT gas card several times.  But those documented incidents amounted up to 400 dollars, according to court records.  That doesn’t reach the threshold for a felony level charge.

Perhaps Kendrick did have the stolen gas card since it became unaccounted for back in 2009 or perhaps it exchanged several hands before it allegedly ended up in his pocket.  Any defense attorney would raise that question.

Whatever the case, it’s clear a lack of government control on CDOT’s end allowed the repeated thievery to continue at the pumps for two years.

And who got stuck with the bill?  Taxpayers…..unless insurance will cover the past fraudulent charges.

In this economy with high unemployment, it’s imperative the government watch its spending not only to the cent, but the credit card swipe.  That $30,000 could have gone to much better use.