Not this time

The world apparently has changed where privacy is concerned. It was only a few months ago that the Sparks Police Department refused to release to the news media the name of the boy, Jose Reyes-Urtiz, who had shot and killed Michael Landsberry and wounded two other students, ostensibly hoping to spare the killer’s family embarrassment or shield them from the community’s frustration and anger. That was October.

“How does it help the community to know his name?” was the rhetoric that was floating around the town when members of the media, including this newspaper, called for the release of information that was by state law public.

Jose Reyes-Urtiz was guilty. He may have also been a victim of something—perhaps mental illness, perhaps physical or emotional mistreatment—but we do know he was a murderer who had no right to privacy, and not just because he was a child, and not just because he was dead, but because the entire community had the right to know.

And then just last week, when releasing the report about the Sparks Middle School shooting, Sparks Police Chief Brian Allen disclosed the names of two children who had every expectation of and right to privacy. In so doing, he also raised suspicions against one student, a 12-year-old boy. (Both children named were victims of Reyes-Urtiz’ gunfire, which may not be stigmatizing, but it still raises issues of privacy, particularly for children.)

This student, after police decided his behavior did not rise to the level of prosecutable bullying—and it’s not a high standard; see the sidebar on page 9—then had his name included in a public presentation and reported by the press. This was, again, despite the fact that he was never officially accused of a crime. A child victim of attempted murder, neither indicted nor convicted of anything, was defamed by forever having his name attached to the killing of teacher Michael Landsberry, becoming a sacrificial lamb because the community apparently needed someone to point a finger at for a seemingly inexplicable act.

This is a heinous example of victim blaming, but it’s sure hard to find people who came out in this child’s defense.

This newspaper is often the first in line to demand and publish information the public is entitled to, and there was even discussion about publishing this child’s name in this week’s news section, since it had already been published on KOLO, KRNV and KTVN and in the Reno Gazette-Journal. The truth is, once Allen released it publicly, it was irrelevant what media chose to put the name on the internet because that boy’s life was forever changed. We still chose to withhold it.

Somebody over there at the city of Sparks has got to get informed about what Nevada law says about what information must be released in public records and what can be withheld. Once again, it appears city of Sparks attorneys chose the expedient course.