Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Demetrius Vinson Case and the ABJ's Dangerous Game

Akron as a community is in a bit of a crisis point. Over the weekend police shot a Demetrius Vinson, 19-year-old suspect, who died in the encounter. In their first statement the police department stated that shots from the officers killed the suspect, but now they allege, based on the forensic examination and other evidence that Vinson shot himself in the head after being shot in the shoulder and leg by police. Large numbers of people in the Black community do not believe the story.

The situation is tense, especially given the backdrop of increased gang activity and a creeping murder rate. And a recent high-profile gang shooting of an innocent bystander that get uglier by the day.

So naturally, the Beacon Journal’s job is to fan the flames.

Today’s story in the Beacon is full of the dark rumblings and unstated accusations that have been the hallmark of criminal justice reporting there for the last half-dozen years. The reporters mutter darkly about the 56 hour lapse between the initial statement and the revised theory during which “the community festered.” They liberally quote attorney Orlando Williams, a civil rights lawyer retained by the Vinson’s family. And they intimate that the change in the police theory during the course of the investigation Means Something.

The situation is a mess because of the confusion about the sequence of events. But the alternative to the police story doesn’t fit with the suspicions the Beacon is casting.

Assuming that Dr. Kohler’s findings are correct – and in my experience Dr. Kohler and her staff do an excellent job – there are but two possibilities for how this went down. One is that Demetrius Vinson shot himself as the police now allege. The other is that someone shot him at close range and, assuming he had residue on his hand, did so by putting the gun in his hand, then pulling the trigger.

Now here is the problem I have: If the police did it, they knew what happened and they knew what the forensic evidence would show. In that case, they would have run the suicide story out to the press immediately. The fact that police waited until they had assembled enough evidence to have confidence in the theory is more consistent with their story, not less.

And by the way, if they were in the business of killing a suspect in cold blood, the 15-year-old witness who was in the car with Vinson wouldn’t be around to tell the tale.

An editorial today the Beacon uses the Vinson case to once again call on the mayor to appoint an independent police auditor. An independent police auditor isn’t a bad idea. But police shootings now are investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office – who often will convene a grand jury to look at the evidence and make a determination – and the Medical Examiner. If that’s not good enough for people who want to believe the worst about the police and the best about the guy who got shot, advocates for an auditor are dreaming if they think it will make any difference.

But a little responsibility on the part of the press might help.

3 comments:

redhorse said...

Common thread in the Vinson and George stories today: Trexler.

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

You folks are way off base. The stories are straight up reporting. There is no agenda in either of 'em Read them again. Yes, the ``community festered.'' That doesn't mean anything more than that. The Vinson case alleged facts unfolded in a confusing, bizarre way. JUST SAYING, that's all the story was saying. Should the Beacon not have addressed the issue of the initial media release and then the witness telling the one story to police, another to the media and the grandmother hearing a story different from the media release in the early going. Whew... JUST SAYING it sounds like a GOOD STORY to me... Me thinks you are dwelling in your own conspiracy theories -- ones involving the big bad msm that do not exist. Trexler is one of the Beacon's finest, straight-shooting reporters. Get back to taking shots at deserving folks/institutions. JUST SAYING. (What does that mean, by the way?... JUST SAYING? Sort of a like leaving a a little intentional fart and then saying, OOPS, JUST FARTING?

redhorse said...

The Vinson story implied more than "confusion".

Yes, it's a story that should be reported, but it shouldn't have an anti angle. Trexler, apparently, is incapable of that.

just sayin'. figure of speech; never heard it?

cute wrap there, though. nice way to say my comment is crap, while, yours of course, if genius.

leading, implying...just like Trexler.