Monday, April 16, 2007

Perp Walk? Not Quite!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Albuquerque Journal reporter Mike Gallagher, in 1978, when he was the police beat reporter, interviewing APD Records Sergeant Harold Munsell.

Gallagher became an involuntary model for a program on police – press relations when I was working in the Chief's office. At that time, Public Information Officer Bob Fenton was rewriting the press relation section of the department’s standard operating procedures. I was assigned to photograph and put together a slide-based program for presentation during annual refresher training for officers.

His kid brother, Tim Gallagher, was the police beat reporter for the Tribune at the same time. They were very competitive! They had so many informants and sources in the department that Internal Affairs had nothing on them. An officer couldn't move without the Gallaghers knowing about it.

Tim Gallagher moved from the Tribune and served parent company E.W. Scripps, as mid level editorial staff at the El Paso Herald-Post, then returned to be the editor of the Tribune before becoming editor at the Ventura, Calif., Star.

Mike Gallagher, here interviewing homicide Sgt. William Last at a 1978 violent crime scene. He became an expert at reading search warrant affidavits. He probably has read more of them than any District Court judge. There are 24 judges who review a fraction while Gallagher reads them all.

He's one of the better reporters I've ever met; probably the best researcher, a great interviewer and he can put ink to paper!

As a journalist, Gallagher does not write on a regular basis. He is an “Investigative Reporter.” It means he spends most of his time doggedly tracking down the details of stories that call for more than a day or two of research. Most reporters cannot devote that much time on a story.

Of late, Gallagher has been working on the parallel stories of the U.S. Attorney firings and the Metropolitan Courthouse construction corruption allegations.

He works with a couple of other investigative reporters, Colleen Heild and Thom Cole. Heild has also been a reporter for more than 20 years. When I was president of the police union and there was an effort to create civilian oversight, Heild wrote a weeklong expose entitled “Policing the Police.” She interviewed me extensively. I do not know Cole, but he, Gallagher and Heild, as a unit, serve to enlighten the community of important, if not limited issues.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Here is Journal Photographer Roberto E. Rosales with Gallagher in front of the Federal Courthouse on Thursday, when former Metropolitan Court Administrator Toby Martinez and his wife Sandra Mata Martinez, two of the four indicted defendants in the Metropolitan Courthouse case, appeared for arraignment.

Rosales is a fine news photographer and he had a good picture on the front page of the Friday Journal of former Senate Pro-Tem Manny Aragón as he broke from the press scrum when he left the courthouse. However, he nailed the event with a second picture, "I'm Completely Innocent," that was posted on the Journal’s website, that showed Aragón arriving at court as he turned a corner with the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse behind him.

Rosales and I had a minor incident during last year’s election campaign when I inadvertently raised my camera in front of his, after he moved from my left to my right shoulder without my noticing it. He pushed my camera out of his way and later yelled at me. If anybody knows me, they know I don’t react well to being yelled at. I wrote Rosales, apologized, explained myself and reminded him that we, as photographers, all had to work in the same arena and that little incidents will arise. He seems to wish to hold a grudge. It’s unfortunate, but his choice.

The press was out in force at the Pete V. Domenici Federal Courthouse Thursday morning.

When the indictments came down last month, Joe Monahan wanted pictures for his blog right away to illustrate those named. He had jokingly called for, “the perp-walk, where’s the perp-walk?”, as he had done as an assignment desk editor at a local television station’s news operation.

This was not the classic perp-walk, which means law enforcement’s walking a handcuffed perpetrator to jail through a gauntlet of photographers. You’ve seen the classic shots of gangsters with their coats over their heads or with their hats in front of their face. Police often times will tip off the press as to where such staged events will take place. The perp-walk serves a symbiotic relationship for both the police and press in an effort for the public and victims to put a face to the name.

For the perpetrator however, there is the feeling that the legal concept of innocent until proven guilty is merely a myth when forced before the cameras.

The courthouse stakeout serves a like purpose. No one seemed to have a picture of Sandra Martinez. There is wide disagreement amongst journalists as to the appropriateness of the opportunity to speak with the accused. A former Albuquerque Journal police beat reporter Steve Shoup, said that all he would ask was if the person wanted to say anything and then he would record what they said.

TV reporters, like KOB’s Shelton Dodson, are more aggressive and ask controversial and provocative questions. He asked of Aragón, how he felt at the prospect of possibly spending the rest of his life in prison. This was just after Aragón had said he was totally innocent of all charges. All Dodson got in response was a dirty look.

KOB TV’s Eyewitness News team, above, had three cameras and two reporters, shown here with the competition, KOAT TV's Rod Green.

The Journal had four staffers; Scott Sandlin, the courts beat reporter, joined Gallagher, Rosales and a backup photographer. The Associated Press had two reporters, an assignment editor and photographer Jake Schoellkop present. The other outlets had a more normal compliment of staffers for reporting a major story.

The media seems to be missing a point about this case. Three defendants: former Albuquerque mayor Ken Schultz, architect Marc Schiff and electronics subcontractor Manuel Guara, have agreed to enter guilty pleas to two counts each, conspiracy and mail fraud, and to testify against those indicted. Their guilty pleas have not yet been accepted in court, contrary to what several outlets have reported. Most likely, the pleas are conditioned on their testifying consistent with the statements they have made to investigators and prosecutors.

Though the four indicted defendants, Aragón, Raul Parra and the Martinez’ pled not guilty, there were two separate arraignment sessions. The reason was hinted at by the Martinez’ attorney, that a plea for them was not out of the question. "Any lawyer who tells you that under no circumstances is their client going to plea is lying to you,” Billy Blackburn told the assembled press.

Blackburn left the courthouse without his clients and initially bypassed the press. The Journal’s Sandlin reported that he refused to comment. The TV cameramen didn’t settle for that as they chased him down and Blackburn paused to give his quote.

The possibility of a solid defense is non-existent because three defendants already have agreed to plea and the Martinez’ are publicly contemplating it. The word on the press line was that there was bad blood between the Martinez’ and Aragón.

Contractor Parra, right, is seen here with his attorney, Robert Gorence, left, the former First Assistant U.S. Attorney for New Mexico during the Clinton administration and former son-in-law of Sen. Domenici. He was married to Lisa Domenici. Gorence said that after a trial where Metropolitan Court judges would testify, reporters would be writing a different story.

One could speculate that the defense will be based on the idea that when there were changes or additions to the existing construction plans and an urgency was placed on having all work completed by the deadline, premium payments would be necessary to secure the subcontractors. Part of the dispute, it would appear, will be that the inflated billing was signed off on, all the way up the construction supervision line, which included sitting judges. However, a $4 million inflation of just the audio-visual work for the $86 million project seems reasonably questionable as excessive.

In a discussion with Janet Blair, Communications, Information and Public Outreach Director for the New Mexico Metropolitan Court in 2005, while working on a photo documentation project of the newly opened courthouse, she indicated that the biggest construction problem was in the design failure to provide for wiring for computers and other audio-visual equipment. She said that in spite of the failure, the construction team was able to get all the work done on time.

There seems an unanswered ethical question that may be the crux of this case. Why does the legislator, Aragón, who shepherds the bonding of state money through the legislature, end up with any money, let alone $700,000 from contractors, as alleged in the indictments?

All the defendants, indicted and agreeing to plea are free on their own recognizance.

The next year, until the trials end, should prove very interesting.

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