By Gina Channell Wilcox
Why we chose not to run details of law firm's press releaseUploaded: Sep 14, 2015
I spoke to a high school journalism class Thursday about the responsibility of journalists to analyze information before presenting it to readers.
The same day I spoke to this class, lawyers representing the family of John Deming Jr., the 19-year-old man shot by Pleasanton Police officer Daniel Kunkel in the early morning hours of July 5 outside an auto dealership in Pleasanton, released a report by a forensic toxicologist hired by the firm that said there were "no positive findings" of narcotics in the system of Deming when he was shot. According to the Pleasanton Police Department, Deming broke into the dealership and was acting erratically, including jumping on cars, screaming, and throwing a 50-pound floor jack through a window, and was shot while assaulting the officer. The family's attorneys contest this version of events based on alleged inconsistencies in the department's statements.
The results forensic toxicologist Edward J. Barbieri were released to the media in the form of a press release using emotionally-charged remarks including accusing the Pleasanton Police Department of a "cover-up" in the "officer-involved homicide," and referring to Kunkel as an "assassin" during his military service in Iraq.
The main purpose of the press release was to condemn Pleasanton for hosting "Operation Urban Shield," an annual first-responder training event, this weekend.
We have decided not to report on details of the press release as a news story at this time for a number of reasons, including timing and the piecemeal manner with which the Deming family attorneys appear to be releasing information to the media. The toxicology report was signed and dated Aug. 24, but wasn't released until Sept. 10.
The Los Angeles law firm, Geregos & Geregos, is considered a "celebrity" firm and has defended a number of well-known people such as Michael Jackson, Chris Brown and Scott Peterson. So the firm's PR people know exactly which media buttons to push and when. Operation Urban Shield was a perfect opportunity to start a media storm and, because they only released the toxicology report, they will have many, many opportunities to distribute more press releases.
This was only a minor point in our decision, though.
We also questioned who funded the report. The press release states that it was an "independent" report, which is a bit misleading. The Deming family retained the services of a pathologist, who is the one who requested the toxicology report done, so "third-party" or "private" might better describe the report.
We do not impugn the credibility of the forensic toxicologist or the accuracy of the report produced. However, there are drugs that are difficult to detect, including the new and popular club drug "bath salts." The toxicology report taken alone - without other information such if and where there were offensive and defensive wounds for example - can cause knee-jerk reactions and conclusions.
The bottom line is that after reviewing the press release issued by Deming's law firm including only findings of a toxicology report on narcotics in a privately-funded autopsy, and discussing the matter at length, we will not report on details of the press release as a news story at this time. We will withhold judgment on the incident and investigation and look forward to receiving complete reports from the Alameda County District Attorney's Office and from the Deming family. There are still many questions to ask of all parties involved.