From the editor: Having the right and doing right are 2 different things
Since we first reported the accusations leveled by former Steamboat Springs Police Detective David Kleiber against Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle, some community members have asked me why I have not published Kleiber’s entire letter on our website.
Yes, it is circulating in the community and has been sent to all seven City Council members. We also have a copy of the letter and have carefully studied its contents. At 10 pages in length, the letter is detailed, contains many names besides Kleiber’s and a large number of the accusations are ones that we have not yet been able to substantiate as fact.
If Kleiber’s allegations were all based on first-hand knowledge or personal involvement, we would consider running the letter. But as it was written, Kleiber’s letter contains third-party information and names of people who did not come to us themselves and who have yet to file any formal action against the city or the police department.
In other words, a lot of the information shared by Kleiber in his letter is hearsay at this point, and as such, it’s now up to our reporting staff to dig deeper and uncover the facts behind the accusations, and that is exactly what we are doing while also reporting on how the city is handling the investigation and more specifics of the case as it unfolds.
As the editor, it was my decision not to run the letter. No one told me not to. But not publishing the letter, doesn’t mean we are ignoring the accusations or don’t understand the severity of the allegations.
We’ve been publishing articles daily about the investigation as we uncover additional information, and you can expect an indepth piece on the excessive force lawsuits filed against the city, which represent one part of Kleiber’s letter that we can back up with fact. In April 2014, reporter Matt Stensland reported on the Ferrugia lawsuit against the Steamboat Police Department stemming from an incident at a local 24-hour fitness center. Stensland’s follow-up story Sunday will look at the other lawsuits related to heavy-handed policing the city is facing and revisit the Ferrugia case.
Our investigation into the claims made by Kleiber are ongoing, and as we are able to substantiate additional information in the letter as fact or if some of the individuals named by Kleiber in the letter want to go on record themselves, we will report that information.
With the arrival of 24/7 news and the Internet, there is a rush to publish without fact checking or verifying information, and that is not the way I believe journalism should be practiced. It hurts the credibility of the news delivered to our readers, and I think it’s irresponsible to publish information that we can’t ascertain to be fact. And I think publishing the entire letter could set a very dangerous precedent that would make people believe they could write whatever they wanted about someone, send it out as an email and expect us to publish it.
In the coming days, weeks and months, we may publish additional portions of the letter as our reporting and investigation develops. We are not trying to keep information away from the public, but instead, we are committed to presenting all the facts surrounding this case. This situation will not be resolved overnight, and I can promise our readers we will not grow weary of reporting on it and searching for the truth.
I also will add that in my opinion there are portions of the letter that are potentially libelous, and although a police chief is a public figure, I still believe I have the responsibility to substantiate allegations before recklessly publishing them as fact. It’s one thing to have the claims circulating in an emailed letter but a different thing entirely to have them published on a newspaper website, which immediately gives them credibility.
I may have the “right” to publish the entire letter, but at this point in time, I don’t think it is the right thing to do.
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