Criticism may not be deserved, but relevant
Published: Thursday, July 10th, 2003
Clovis law enforcement officers have faced some public criticism in the past week for their actions in two unrelated cases that occurred last weekend. We support the rights of those who have questioned authority — indeed we have given them a voice through the pages of this newspaper. But we are hesitant to join in the criticism given the information received so far. On July 4, a Clovis woman, Bobbie Sandoval, was killed by a pickup whose driver is believed to have been fleeing police. Witnesses to the accident dispute the police report, which states that the officer involved used his siren to warn residents of oncoming danger. The witnesses said they did not hear a siren. Some also characterized the incident as a “chase,” which police have denied. In the other July 4 case, a Clovis family asked police to help them locate a 9-month-old child. The infant’s mother told police her family was trying to take the baby away from her and so she had left the child with a friend. About 24 hours later the baby was found abandoned in a travel trailer, where authorities believe she had been left alone for two or three days. Teresa Rodriguez, a sister of the baby’s mother, said if police had taken the family’s concerns more seriously, the baby would have been found much earlier. Fortunately, the child is recovering after having been reported in critical condition when admitted to a Lubbock hospital Saturday afternoon. No matter what anyone believes occurred in either case, it is obvious the Clovis police were faced with making difficult decisions quickly. By all accounts, the crash that took Sandoval’s life unfolded in a matter of seconds. Police said the suspect vehicle an officer was attempting to stop for a traffic violation was driving slowly, as if looking for a safe place to pull over. Then without warning, according to the officer’s report, the pickup accelerated down a street full of people who had been watching the city’s fireworks display. The pickup hit a series of vehicles, crushing Sandoval between two of them. Witnesses said a police siren might have prevented the death since it could have alerted Sandoval to the danger coming her way. Yet some people could argue that a siren would have alerted the suspect that police were still behind him, spurring him to go faster or drive more recklessly. The debate as to whether the officer used his siren — and whether the officer was chasing the suspect — makes the case all the more complicated and difficult to analyze until more information is available. As for the officer who investigated the abandoned baby case, it’s true he might have been able to locate the child a day earlier if he’d been more aggressive in questioning the mother’s story. But what if the mother had been telling the truth, that her baby was with a friend who was temporarily away from home? How many civil liberties do we want our law officers to violate just in case somebody might be committing a crime? No matter what the officers did, the baby's case was another in which police could have drawn criticism. When we provided front-page space in Wednesday’s newspaper to those who questioned police, it wasn’t our editorial opinion being expressed. Private citizens were giving theirs. Yet the News Journal’s newsroom received several complaints from readers who thought the newspaper was too critical of law officers. We reminded our critics that reporting complaints about police behavior is part of our job. Doing so does not mean the newspaper is making those allegations. Police were well aware of the criticisms prior to the stories’ publication and were given opportunity to respond, which they did to varying degrees. We make every effort to be objective, balanced and fair in our daily news reporting. On this page, the Opinion page, we offer opinions. Our opinion of last week’s tragic events is this: We believe the driver who made a violent run down a crowded residential street is primarily responsible for the death of Bobbie Sandoval. And we believe those responsible for the care of the 9-month-old abandoned baby are primarily responsible for that child’s critical injuries. Just as we believe the court system will have to decide the fates of the accused in all cases that come before the court. We also think police procedures and crime-fighting techniques are always issues for public scrutiny and debate. It is our responsibility, and our privilege, to provide that forum.
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