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By Gina Channell Wilcox

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About this blog: I am President of Embarcadero Media's East Bay Division and the publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly, Dublin TriValley Views, San Ramon Express and Danville Express. As a 25-plus-year veteran of the media industry, I have experience...  (More)

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It's our responsibility to report, not make assumptions

Uploaded: Feb 17, 2016
There are a few links on the Pleasanton Weekly and Town Square forums to reports on other sites concerning the official autopsy on John Deming Jr., who was shot and killed in July by Pleasanton Police Department Office Daniel Kunkel.

I received a copy of the official Alameda County Coroner's Bureau autopsy and toxicology report in January, much to the dismay of the DA's office. The DA spokesperson, Teresa Drenick, said it was not supposed to be released until the investigation is complete, and there is still no timeline on that.

The document is linked in the story.

It confirmed the findings that Deming had no drugs in his system, as was reported in a press release from the family's attorneys in September. We were denied access to the actual autopsy and toxicology report. Because we couldn't confirm anything, we didn't run the press release.

We felt it was irresponsible to put out information that came to us in the form of a vitriolic press release, especially when the law firm said we couldn't see the report.

The county autopsy, which was completed in December as part of the investigation, mentions "maroon contusions...." on Deming's legs and back that the reporter, Meredith Bauer, and I thought may or may not be taser marks or bruising made by bean bags. (pages 14-16)

Page 16 states, "There is no deposition of smoke or powder or evidence of burning," which Meredith and I thought was odd for a "close range shot" as Pleasanton Police Department spokesperson had claimed.

However, while Meredith and I can speculate all we want, we are not qualified to say whether those maroon contusions were consistent with marks left by a taser or bean bag, and we are certainly not qualified to say that lack of burning, smoke or powder near the wound means it was "not at close range." Neither of us has attended medical school.

We tried to find a credible source to tell us if the contusions were consistent with taser and / or bean bag marks and to define "close range?" My question was how close does someone have to be to leave powder, smoke or burning? Two inches? Two feet? What constitutes "close range?"

Meredith even tried to track down the person who signed off on the autopsy. Nobody from the Coroner's Bureau would confirm anything at the time we broke the story, citing the ongoing investigation.

It is not our place, and we feel it is not responsible, to report something like "he was not shot at close range as previously suggested by police" because we are not qualified to determine that.

Meredith is continuing to pursue the story while covering her other beats.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by DJohns, a resident of Downtown,
on Feb 22, 2016 at 3:57 pm

DJohns is a registered user.

PW reported the police statement, which had the PPD  desired effect, of leaving the community believing that John attacked the officer and deserved to die. It seems responsible to balance, and repair the damage caused by printing only the biased police statement, when information is made available that questions the accuracy of those statements.

PW has a responsibility to, at minimum, report the findings without conclusion.  "There is no deposition of smoke or powder or evidence of burning" at the bullet entrance of the bullet wounds, was left out of the PW report entirely. I also question how John was still resisting as police handcuffed him, since the bullet to the face went through his brain. Other news sources did report that there were inconsistencies, one used an independent expert. It is important to educate the public to the truth that a police report is NOT fact, but the story police want believed.

I strongly believe that PPD is an organization of good men and women who do good things for our community everyday. That does not give a pass for mistakes that are made. Certainly the death of an unarmed, teenager in crisis, is not an excusable mistake.

I am not suggesting PW has an agenda, please understand my concern for what it is. A responsible public demands accountability. Without truth tellers there will always be abuse of power, please demand accountability.

Web Link
“Franklin Sher, a forensic pathologist not associated with the case, agreed that the lack of gun powder residue means it's unlikely Deming was shot up close.”

Web Link
Officer-Involved Shooting Victim’s Autopsy At Odds With Pleasanton Police Claims “The autopsy report also finds he was not shot at close range as previously suggested by police.”

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Feb 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

What part of "It's our responsibility to report, not make assumptions".
Is it that you did not understand?

The PW published the Sheriff's investigative report, "coroners autopsy", the other Bay Area media outlets took it from there.

Posted by, a blogger,
on Feb 22, 2016 at 4:52 pm is a registered user.


We tried to find the "Franklin Sher" referenced in the CCT and SJ Mercury stories, but don't know where the reporter got this source. He didn't report where Sher is from or what his credentials are, which is pretty standard attribution. Also, this was a statement, not a quote from Sher, which we found odd. Meredith and I even looked through forensic reference books to see if that's where the reporter found the source, but to no avail.

Second, it is the statement "Autopsy at Odds with Pleasanton Police Claims," that prompted me to mention Meredith and I aren't qualified to make that leap. We do not possess medical degrees. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the CCT reporter doesn't have one either.

Did you ask yourself about Sher? Did you wonder where he is from and his qualifications? Did you wonder what makes the reporter qualified to make a statement like the one he made? If not, you might be overlooking some important questions because the statements align with your perception of what you think happened that night. I fully admit to not knowing what happened on that night.

Our responsibility as journalists is to use our critical thinking skills and ask questions like who is Franklin Sher and what are his credentials, what is "close range," and the like.

We broke the story on the county-issued autopsy and toxicology report (after we confirmed the authenticity) so readers would have the facts. We tried to find sources to translate the facts into statements, because we aren't qualified. We are still looking for credible, qualified sources to do that.

There is a responsibility that falls on individuals to think critically about information presented -- from anyone at any time -- and keep an open mind. To think critically one must lay aside biases and past experiences and look at facts and all sides of an argument.

Unfortunately, many people choose the facts to justify what they want to believe.

Posted by DJohns, a resident of Downtown,
on Feb 22, 2016 at 8:02 pm

DJohns is a registered user.

Gina, Actually, I had searched Franklin Sher, forensic pathologist. He popped right up, he is a doc at John Muir who specializes in Forensic Toxicology, his phone number is 925 935-3113. He seemed to not only be a real doctor but qualified to give an opinion on the subject. Your implications about me are personal and unfortunate. I never doubt your sincere committment to being factual, but we all have biases.

Posted by, a blogger,
on Feb 22, 2016 at 9:54 pm is a registered user.

We also did that search and called that Franklin Sher at John Muir. He is a general practitioner with an interest in Forensic Toxicology-Alcohol & Drug Abuse, not a forensic pathologist.

I asked if you had pondered certain questions more in a Socratic manner than an accusatory manner. I didn't mean to make it sound personal and I apologize that it seemed that way. My point was that everything should be questioned, especially since we all have experiences that have led to certain perceptions and biases. We all have to lay aside those biases and look for the arguments that go against what we believe in order to see all sides. And it's not easy.

That's why I am especially sorry you took my comments personally. I only wanted to explain why everything -- statements, sources, etc., -- should be looked at with a critical mindset. That includes our reporting. Your constructive criticism and questions are thought-provoking and often provide a view point counter to ours, which we find valuable.

Please accept my apology.

Also -- We have requested the investigation documents release at 5 p.m. today from DA, the police department and the family's attorneys. Hopefully we will have the documents soon and will post them when we do.

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