In October, you may recall, Jose Nevarez-Coronado was charged with vehicular homicide in the death of Prof. Yvonne Frye of the Community College of Denver.
On the radio Oct. 8, a couple days after the crash, Peter Boyles, who has little good to say about The Denver Post these days, except about reporter Karen Crummy whom he praises, ripped into the newspaper's coverage of the crash.
The Post had reported that Nevarez-Coronado had a criminal record showing multiple arrests for theft, and he was on probation for one of them.
Boyles claimed that the suspect, Nevarez-Coronado, "stunk to me" and "used nine different names, three different places of birth, and he has a criminal record that's really lengthy."
Boyles went on: "Guess who this guy is, right? Now, The Denver Post isn't going to tell you who this guy is. The Denver Post actually did an editorial saying Denver is not a sanctuary city. Just Google sanctuary city, and Denver comes up. And they've endorsed the sanctuary mayor for governor. So none of this is surprising."
But guess what, you Boyles listeners, and there are a lot of you because his program tops the rating charts for Denver radio in the mornings.
Nevarez-Coronado turns out to be an American citizen, born in Albuquerque. He's not an illegal immigrant. (Boyles' much-hated Denver Post editorial board got Nevarez-Coronado's citizenship wrong, too, and posted a correction.)
But the point of this blog post is not to beat up on Boyles for speculating about Nevarez-Coronado, even though his conjecture, and the hateful way he delivers it on the radio, makes me sick personally, and it should make Boyles himself ill because of the hatred this can whip up toward innocent people.
But, putting that aside, the question is, how can this be avoided next time? How can journalists and talk-show hosts like Boyles report or discuss the news and respect Hispanic citizens?
Last week, I asked Post City Editor Dana Coffield what The Post's policy is on reporting the citizenship status of criminal suspects.
I had noticed that in its coverage of the Aurora Central High shooting in December, The Post reported repeatedly that the suspect has an ICE hold and is "believed" to be an illegal immigrant, according to police.
Coffield emailed me:
"We only report a person's immigration status when it becomes part of and material to the public record. If I recall correctly, Aurora PD made a statement regarding the arrest of Luis Guzman-Rincon that included a mention of the ICE hold pending investigation of his immigration status.
The public records databases that we have access to do not let us know whether a person is a U.S. citizen or not (imagine looking yourself up in ACURINT - you get age, name, voter registration, property ownership, licenses, stuff like that, or the criminal records database, which shows charges and disposition.) I know that police have access to more detailed records that may detail immigration status, but they're not something we're allowed to look at."
I asked Coffield if she thought she'd get more information under the new Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprints to determine if a suspect is a known illegal immigrant. Coffield said she didn't think this would change anything.
"[It seems inappropriate to presume that anyone is NOT a citizen or legal resident of the U.S. When Weld County deputy Sam Brownlee was killed in Evans in November, people were quick to presume Rueben Reyes was not a citizen (and were wrong). Would they have done the same if the assailant was named Jason Salzman, presuming that a shooter by that name was in the country illegally from Austria, or named Peter Boyles, presuming that a shooter by that name was in the country illegally from Ireland...?"
I asked Boyles if he thinks The Post should speculate about a suspect's citizenship status, whether he or she is Hispanic or half Polish like me.
He said no. Boyles does not want The Post to speculate.
"What should they report?" I asked Boyles.
"They ought to say that the suspect has given multiple DOBs [dates of birth] and POBs [places of birth]," he answered.
"It's easily found out," Boyles said. "You tell us. Those aren't tough records. People run those records all the time."
Coffield wrote that if this information is in the public record, The Post will report it, but she added that this type of information is found in the police databases that are not public.
So, a way forward emerges.
I'm hoping that next time a Hispanic suspect is arrested, Boyles will be more humane and refrain from speculating on the person's immigration status or accusing The Post of deliberately hiding part of that suspect's criminal record, if it's not available in public records.
And if Boyles knows details about a suspect's criminal history that aren't publicly available, he will tell us where they came from and how he got them and where, specifically, The Post can find them.
Then before bashing The Post, he might ask someone there why something was left out. I mean, maybe the suspect's record had more serious crimes on it. Or maybe there wasn't space. Next time, Boyles should try to find out.
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