Who failed Michael Harris?

michel_harris

Michael Harris was killed two months before what would have been his second birthday. Prosecutors say it’s one of the worst child abuse cases they’ve seen.

Last week I walked around a cemetery in Adams County to pay a visit to the grave marker of Michael Harris.

It wasn’t too hard to find.

Someone left some small plastic toys on his gravestone.   I wonder who’s still thinking about him.

Not many people cared for Michael when he was alive.

His mother and grandparents were meth users, according to court documents. Michael’s mom smoked pot while pregnant and he was born with marijuana in his system.

Michael’s biological father knew of his existence, but didn’t ever meet the little guy.

Prosecutors say Michael’s case is one of the worst they’ve seen when it comes to child abuse.

Judge Chris Melonakis unleashed on caseworkers and accused them of blatantly ignoring abuse and neglect in his home.

It’s important to point out caseworkers are not the ones who killed Michael, even though Judge Melonakis says they are also directly responsible.

The man who was convicted of killing Michael is serving a 42 year prison term.  Michael’s mom is serving 16 years for knowing about the abuse, but doing nothing to stop it.

Many of the caseworker documents and investigative documents are not accessible by the public because of confidentiality laws, so it’s impossible for us to hold them accountable.

While there is oversight in place, as I reporter I’ve learned over the years you can’t count on the government to watch itself.

Agencies need public and media scrutiny, especially when a child dies while under the radar of government employees who should be protecting them.

I’m not sure if the judge’s call for a grand jury investigation will prompt a serious investigation into the Adams County child welfare office.

Perhaps an investigation will find caseworkers did everything they could, as their supervisor tells us.

At Michael’s grave site, there were several other children I recognized from our Failed to Death series who were grouped together in the kids’ area of the cemetery.

I couldn’t help but notice there was plenty of space for more.

On AJ Clemente and his future….

 

I honestly feel sorry for the guy.

While AJ Clemente was terminated for his awkward on-air debacle, he’s accepting responsibility and learning the hard lesson a hot microphone can be the guillotine of a reporter’s career.

Yeah, he said some pretty bad words on TV…stuff you shouldn’t say on an FCC licensed station.

While his mistake is quite amusing and easy to laugh at, I’ve got to express my sincere empathy for the dude.

Like a bad zit that won’t go away, Clemente’s mistake will now live forever on YouTube. Future employers googling his name will likely find that awkward moment years from now.

Thank goodness YouTube didn’t exist when I began in TV news.

All of you would have a field day.

Here’s a couple of my screw-ups I remember:

-During one of my first live shots, I remember stopping right in the middle. I just stopped and looked into the camera. I froze. I didn’t know what to say. The anchor took over awkwardly. I remember walking back into the station and the whole newsroom was crowded around a TV laughing at it. A confidence killer. I almost quit.

-While anchoring, I got the giggles talking about “World Psoriasis Day.” I couldn’t stop. I laughed through the whole newscast…NON STOP.

-I was teasing a story about “Funk Master Rick James.” When I said the word “funk,” it came out like that other F-word. Ugh. I wanted to leave earth’s orbit that night.

When we screw up in front of THOUSANDS of people, we are often told we suck through twitter or Facebook.

It comes with the territory.

TV news guys, especially when we first start out, are easy targets as we try to look professional while looking more like Fred Savage in a suit.

But those of us who’ve managed to stay in this industry have somehow found the motivation to get in front of an unforgiving audience again and again after we do something seriously embarrassing.

I wish Clemente good luck in the future.

I’m not sure if he will have a career in TV news after this…but as his twitter page says

“Keep on, Keeping on…”

It’s time to unseal more theater shooting documents

As of this posting, it has been 236 days since the Aurora theater shooting. 

While it’s the court’s job and priority to make sure the suspect receives a fair trial, courts are also sacred places in our democracy where transparency is a vital ingredient to integrity.

While there have been numerous court hearings, dozens and dozens of legal motions, an intense preliminary hearing with 911 audio and photos, and now an arraignment, there are still questions.

The probable cause statement and search warrants still remain under seal.  

These documents may reveal more about what happened before the shooting, the suspect’s behavior, and who interacted with him.   

We still don’t know why this tragedy happened and we may never know. 

Prosecutors have vaguely mentioned the suspect’s “downward spiral” in court documents. 

What was this downward spiral about?  How much mental health help, if any, did the suspect seek before the shooting? Who else was involved in the suspect’s life before the shooting?  What did they know?  

The sealed documents, if they contain psychiatric history, could also give more insight into how Dr. Lynne Fenton may have handled the suspect.  Her reputation has likely been affected based on media reports she allegedly didn’t do enough to stop the massacre.  Fenton has been mentioned in numerous tort claims and in at least one lawsuit for not initiating a 72-hour psychiatric hold.  

The releasing of the probable cause statement, depending on what it contains, could put to rest rumors and false facts that have circulated since July 20th

The public, the victims and their families still have many questions.

It has been eight months since the horrible incident.  The suspect has been charged and arraigned.  It’s time to unseal. 

Hopefully, with this renewed focus by the media to push for the unsealing of the documents, more answers may be revealed. 

Among an angry family in court

If there’s one place a TV reporter should NOT be, it’s sitting in court among angry family members of a convicted child killer.

They are deeply upset and are looking to channel their anger at someone or something.

A reporter like myself is an easy target.

I knew sitting among the Keith Ruiz family was probably not a good idea, even though this was my first time covering this case.

I should have picked my seat earlier.  There was no other place to sit.   Lesson learned.

Ruiz already pleaded guilty and admitted to body-slamming his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter because she wouldn’t stop crying.   She later died as a result of head injuries.

Towards the end of a heavy, emotional hearing, an unidentified Ruiz family member turned towards me and told me “not to paint him as a monster like everyone else does.”

Of course, when I offered this man an on camera interview to defend Ruiz, he declined and shook his head at such a revolting offer.

I heard the rest of the family sigh in disgust as if I’m the one responsible for their loved one’s character and credibility.

I told them they could be angry at me and that’s fine, but I was willing to share their side of the story.

A family member then turned to one of deputies and said I was “stirring people up.”

I was in the middle of a hornets nest, I sensed trouble and I got up quickly and I left my seat.

A really cool deputy saw and heard the predicament I was in.

She went out of her way to find me a seat next to the prosecution.

Ruiz was given a 36 year sentence, four years below the maximum under the stipulated plea agreement.

His family left.   I didn’t bother approaching them, knowing things could have turned bad.

I wrote my report, while trying to be fair as possible.

Looking back, I still debate with myself if I should have even engaged the family.

But it’s my job to offer them their say, even if some of them would like to punch me in the face.

I walked out of court making sure I was aware of my surroundings, leaving behind another case, another convict and another short life remembered in court.

The little girl who was killed didn’t have a voice.

And that’s the real shame.

Intimidation Tactics by Agfinity Over Possible Hate Speech Sticker

This sticker was sold by a store owned by Agfinity in Eaton, Colorado.

This sticker was sold by a store owned by Agfinity in Eaton, Colorado.

Today, I feel like I’m in a Seinfeld episode.

Or maybe it’s more like the Twilight Zone.

I just got off the phone with the media/marking spokesperson with Agfinity and I can’t believe what I was just told.

During that phone conversation, media/marking employee Mark Reinert alluded if I did a report on his company he would possibly send “candid” video of me to another television station “if we have to” and that they would talk to my “superiors.”

While Reinert didn’t directly indicate what the video captured, he hinted it shows me planting evidence against his company.

I HOPE ANOTHER TV STATION PICKS THIS “CANDID” VIDEO.  PLEASE!

Apparently Reinert and company are desperate and fear a TV report about a big mistake they made involving what could be characterized as hate speech.

One of their convenience stores was found to be selling “Illegal Immigrant Hunting Permits” stickers at their shop in Eaton (see photo).

A viewer tipped us off about this sticker through an email and I paid a visit to their store in Eaton today.

I walked over to the rack of stickers but didn’t see the stickers for sale….at least not immediately.

There was an empty part of the rack, so I assumed they were removed.

However I did find the “Illegal Immigrant Hunting Permit” sticker under another stack on the rack.

I paid for it, along with a water and a Power Bar and then walked out.

Two managers came out and told me they shouldn’t have sold me the sticker.

They apparently removed them after complaints they were getting on their Facebook page, like this one.

Obviously they didn’t remove all the stickers.

I’m still moving forward with the story tomorrow after we do some research on the company that actually makes the stickers and distributes the product to Agfinity stores.

And if you see me on “candid” video planting the sticker THEY SOLD ME, please let me know.

I need a good laugh, because after years of being an investigative reporter, I’m dumb enough to plant evidence in a store with security video.

Please watch for my story tomorrow (Thursday).

Suspicion in Adams County – No Transparency & No Accountability

Anytime police fatally shoot someone, it’s a horrible situation.   

Such cases should be as transparent as possible so the public knows how the suspect acted and if lethal force was justified.    

But the Adams County Sheriff’s Office is dismissing transparency and ignoring public disclosure laws by refusing to release the name of a man who was fatally shot this week during a suspected DUI stop. 

We were told by a department spokesperson the man’s family requested his name not be released. 

If this is true, I certainly recognize and acknowledge the family’s grief.    It must be a horrible situation for them and of course they wouldn’t want their love one’s name all over the news.   Who would?

However one family’s wishes are not above the law and neither is the Adams County Sheriff’s Department.   I hope that doesn’t sound callous. 

While the shooting may be justified, not releasing the man’s name breeds an extraordinary amount of suspicion.

Was this man related to someone in the Sheriff’s department? 

Does the family have political connections?   

Why is the department treating this case differently?

Did the family really make this request to the department?

Transparency laws exist for a reason so reporters like me can gather information to hold agencies accountable for their actions.   

The man’s name is needed to research autopsy records and his background.   

Perhaps he was an upstanding citizen who never had any sort of trouble with police the past. 

Who knows?  

When an agency blatantly ignores these laws with arbitrary decisions like this, there is an inherent problem. 

Everyone should be treated the same and for some reason Adams County is making a highly suspicious exception.