Truth and Trust

uc 2 SQSomething’s wrong here in Ulster County. On April 15 a man was shot by a sheriff’s deputy after he allegedly stole a car and led a chase through three towns. After ten days, the name of the guy who was shot was released, but we still have not been officially told the name of the deputy. That information has been withheld by the sheriff’s department and by both Ulster County’s district attorney, who has recused himself and his office from the case, and by the Orange County district attorney, who now has it.

The deputy’s father told the Times Herald-Record in the June 2 paper that his son, deputy David Hughes, was the shooter. According to the paper, “he felt Rifenburg’s [20-year-old Brandon Rifenburg, the guy who got shot] parents had a right to know who shot their son and didn’t think it was fair that the name was being withheld.”

Ulster County sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, who as of press time still hadn’t disclosed Hughes’ name, told that paper that David Hughes was still on regular patrol duties. We don’t know whether Hughes was suspended or kept from regular duties for any period of time while the incident was being investigated.


Police Chief Magazine quotes a 48-Hour Release Policy for the names of all parties involved in a shooting. “It will further benefit the law enforcement agency to send personalized copies of this release to stakeholders in the community to avoid dissemination of misinformation and to provide the community the names and phone numbers of contact persons for questions or concerns.”

That makes sense to us. Any time a peace officer draws his gun (or taser, for that matter) is a serious business, a potential life-or-death matter. The public needs to have complete confidence in the training and judgment of its law-enforcement professionals. And it is more likely to have that confidence if it knows the full story of what’s going on. Otherwise, the public’s suspicion of those we need most to trust is elevated and the working fabric of our society crumbles.

Procedures for releasing information in such situations are well documented.

On May 29, the California Supreme Court ruled, according to the Los Angeles Times, “Police agencies [in that state] must reveal the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings unless there is specific evidence that disclosure would pose a safety threat…” justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing for a 6-1 majority, said “Vague safety concerns that apply to all officers involved in shootings are insufficient to tip the balance against disclosure of officer names.”

Policies in San Francisco say “Officers shall not return to regular assignment for a minimum of ten calendar days.” Wikipedia, speaking generally of law enforcement policy, “a police officer who shoots a person while on duty will be given a suspension with pay during the investigation, not to punish, but to enable the department to carry out its investigation.”

In saying that it was not his job to disclose names, district attorney Holley Carnright, a usually thoughtful public official, may have been trying to strike a balance between the deputy’s rights, his ability to continue in his job, and the interests of the public. The Times Herald-Record quoted Carnright as asking in an appearance on Kingston Community Radio why the disclosure of the deputy’s name was necessary. “What kind of little morbid interest is that to need to know his name?” he is reported to have asked.

That attitude sounds unduly defensive to us. As was inevitable, the non-disclosure ended up fostering greater public suspicion. Right or wrong, the way this situation has been handled implies that judgments have been made in-house on the case, without process.

Carnright’s policy is wrong, and presents an appearance that there may be a cover up.

Our Freedom of Information laws are flouted repeatedly by governments on all levels. Executive sessions are misused. Quorums are convened without proper public notice. Documents are misplaced. The laws protecting us from this kind of abuse have no teeth.

When it comes to a police officer shooting a citizen, it is even more important that, exempting unusual extenuating circumstances, the names and details are routinely aired soon after the incident.

There are 3 comments

  1. citizen K

    “district attorney Holley Carnright, a usually thoughtful public official….” I’m afraid you have this quite wrong… on what basis do you find Carnright “thoughtful”… he has a long record of inaction, hiding information, and failing to investigate… don’t you read your own paper?
    Carnright is personable, presentable, and cuts a handsome figure… is that what you mean by “a usually thoughtful public official”…
    A few years back, Carnright was brought with great reluctance to a meeting called in Ward 5 to address wanton misbehaviour by teens and young adults in their ward… Mr. Carnright did not step in until the people were going to take matters into their own hands… I’m sure they would have done an excellent job, and by and large, by taking it into their own hands, they did just that. But Mr. Carnright does not and will not lead. Mr. Carnright only feared the worst in “people taking their lives into their own hands.” He wants it in his hands where he can sit on it, trade favors with it.
    He is a charming man. Very nice. Indeed, appears to be a very very good man. And a very very poor District Attorney. And your paper supports him.

  2. endrun

    Hmm….seems to me you either question what goes on in Podunk county…or you don’t. Truth is you can’t stay in business as a press without a bit of both(the recipe being about 9 parts failing to question all that much if at all, mixed with one part of questioning)…but now where is the Ubiquitous if not Omnipresent Ulster County Executive on all this? Hiding behind his permanent smile, bolstered by his selfie-self self, mixed with layers of overpaid staff circling the wagons of the corporate world known as the county, of course. (When you need him he’s never around…and vice versa, ie, when he’s not really needed he’s always “there”–yet “how ya gonna keep him down on the farm, now that he’s seen smileyyyyyy?”) “Not my department”. “The deputies like to go easy on Senior citizens”(presumably the victim was not a Senior Citizen, thus the younger, the better or presumably so…more politically correct anyway, if we take this reasoning to its logical antithesis–if you seek some theme for a story, you might well find it there, but only if you dare….). But aside from that, this newspaper’s attitude vis-a-vis its publisher is also a bit “unduly offensive” on this, suggesting there is an automatic coverup because the deputy’s name is withheld(but apparently known now, so that premise fails on a permanent basis as well). Perhaps, as per your suggestion self-evident in the article, feathers don’t need to be further ruffled in a context of the rural county mentality where everything, or so it seems, is interpreted as so personal(more than implied by the APPARENT motive for the father of the deputy to reveal his son’s identity). Now if the victim is from an underprivileged family, your aggression on the issue has some value;yet if the parents are taxpayers, your story more or less falls into the category of “officials of the county want to dance around these issues because of the taxpayer status of the parents (and/or victim).” Thus, no “coverup” necessary to the dynamic to be explained here. But since we don’t know any of these details yes, ie, “we” in the reading public, we therefore cannot make any assessment at all on this. Unless and until you complete an actual journalistic job in such areas, ie, and not only do that, but, ahem, disclose it to the public in some way. Vague, Woodstock-informed visceral notions on how to conduct a government with press relationship just aren’t enough to cut it–true, enough for how to report it vis-a-vis this article, but not enough on how to suggest things ought be in the real, Baghadavita-less world. Ahem-ahem(frog stuck in my throat).

    1. citizen K

      Yes, that article was a bit of a waste of space…

      “we” in the reading public, we therefore cannot make any assessment at all on this. Unless and until you complete an actual journalistic job in such areas

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