Column: Some gaps in system of reporting arrests

Published: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 11:42 a.m. CDT
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David Giuliani is a news editor and writes for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

If the Sterling police stop you for speeding, you’ll get your name in the department’s media report, which will then appear in the newspaper.

I know; it’s happened to me twice. And, indeed, I was speeding.

But if you are charged with the felony of aggravated battery, your name might never make the daily media report.

In recent weeks, I’ve happened upon two instances in which aggravated battery suspects’ names never made the paper.

In June, authorities arrested two men – James Velasquez, 42, and his son, Nicholas Velasquez, 23, both area residents – for beating up a man after he admitted to them that he was gay.  

Both men pleaded to the lesser charge of misdemeanor battery. 

We found out about this crime only after Benjamin Brainerd, 28, told us about it, saying he disagreed with the prosecutors’ decision to lessen the charges. 

After we ran a story about it, a reader called to say another local man had been arrested on a charge of aggravated battery in the summer. He is accused of punching a man, who fell and hit his head on the pavement. His name never appeared in the paper. The reader thought this local man had political pull, so he was able to stay out of the public eye. 

In both cases, the Sterling police investigated in the beginning, but the Whiteside County state’s attorney picked it up from there.

In both cases, it appeared as if agencies other than the Sterling police arrested the aggravated battery suspects after warrants were issued.

“If we do an arrest, details will be released,” Sterling police Sgt. Steve Hubbard said. 

If the Sterling police don’t arrest someone, he said, that person’s name won’t be in the department’s media log. 

So it appears that a gap in the reporting system exists. As with most media organizations, we aim to report all arrests. No exceptions for anyone, including bosses and advertisers. 

State’s Attorney Trish Joyce said her office does not control what is reported to the public.

“Once a warrant is issued, any officer can make the arrest on the warrant,” she wrote in an email. “We do not control whether a specific police agency releases arrest information, with or without a warrant.”

Joyce also said the paper’s responsibility is to determine criteria for printing arrests, “although I believe the policy should be uniformly applied.”

I agree.

David Giuliani is a news editor and writes for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dgiuliani@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

 

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