Saturday morning, scanning the Paradise Post over a cup of fresh-brewed diner coffee, I came across a story on the front page that left me astonished.
The story—written by former CN&R intern Chelsey Shoop—said Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey had decided not to prosecute Danny Scott, who was arrested in a sting operation designed to ferret out fraudulent practices at auto-body shops.
My astonishment stemmed from the fact that Scott was the shop owner whose picture made the front page of local newspapers. The other seven defendants still face trials. So here’s the guy with the weakest case, yet he’s the one who became the face of insurance crime.
How did this happen? What should be done about it?
This week’s Newslines section examines the first question (“Poster boy for fraud finds vindication”).
The second question is trickier.
Ramsey’s office invited local media outlets to cover the arrests on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 30. Had we decided that CN&R should accept, our photojournalist would have driven to the rendezvous point and gone on with the others to the first shop selected by officers. “Mr. Scott evidently was in” at that time, Ramsey explained,and thus was “unlucky enough to get his picture taken.”
As for the strength of Scott’s case, Assistant District Attorney A. J. Haggard said several agencies—state and local—participated in the sting, so “there was a lot of investigation and information coming in.” He and Ramsey found reason to drop the charges after reviewing the evidence and Scott’s interviews with law enforcement.
This may well be an isolated incident, as Ramsey assessed it. Scott may just be someone who was in the wrong place (his Paradise shop) at the wrong time (when photographers were there).
Nonetheless, I hope every district attorney and attorney general reflects on the experience of Danny Scott, a small-town guy jolted by big-time exposure. The “photo op” has value, but it shouldn’t be a game of chance. Please, DAs and AGs, check your case files carefully before subjecting a suspect to the cameras’ glare.
Seasonal shift: With the start of winter break, CN&R editors have waved goodbye to one of our fall interns from Chico State, Leslie Williams. Leslie made her mark with a range of stories, particularly her Newslines on a long-time American Indian activist and on a college student exploring Islam. We’ll miss her but look forward to seeing her byline in the features section of The Orion next semester.
We are thrilled to welcome Orion alumnus Colin Thompson as an intern—and welcome back Bryce Benson and Marisol Salgado.
We still have a couple more candidates to interview and will accept applications into January. If you are, or know, a journalism student interested in an internship, please contact me.