Saturday, April 3, 2010

Vigiling for police accountabilty; Media rationale

Yesterday Coalition for Community Justice members stood out in front of the Springfield Federal Building and vigiled for a more accountable police department.  We were joined by members of the Stovall family, whose son/brother had died last Saturday after an encounter with the Springfield police.  The family is having their own vigil tonight a 6 pm. at the corner of Grenada Terrace and Sorrento St., where Clyde Ratcliff spent his last moments.  I'm not going to write much about Mr. Ratcliff until more details are available, but I will say that I liked Mr. Ratcliff's family members very much-- a middle class Black family who had recently bought a house in the Forest Park area.

While Mr. Ratcliff's sister, Karen Stovall, and Arise President Don James went into the Federal Building to deliver a letter to the U.S. Justice Department, Mr. Ratcliff's father and I had a conversation.  We did wonder what it would take to get more community people standing out with us-- only about twenty of us turned out.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "if this hadn't just happened to us, if our family hadn't been affected, we probably wouldn't be here, either.  You just don't think this kind of thing is going to happen to your family."


On Wednesday, I asked why the media had been so silent about Mr. Ratcliff's death, not reporting until that very day when Mr. Ratcliff had died on Saturday.

A partial answer seems to be that the media was not notified by the police until Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.  (I say a partial answer, because aren't reporters supposed to look for stories, not wait for the stories to come to them?)

Mike Dobbs, editor of the Springfield Reminder, posted the following message:  (Mike works for a weekly, so he's not on the hook about this.)

This what I received on Wednesday from the Springfield Police Department:

"On Saturday March 27th 2010 at 8:50 P.M. Sgt. Richard Labelle of the uniformed Division was working and patrolling "High Crime Areas" in Springfield. The Sergeant was in the area of Hancock Street when he observed a 2003 Pontiac Bonneville pulled over to the curb. The vehicle was occupied by CLYDE RATCLIFF age 48 of Johnson Street in Springfield. Mr. Ratcliff was talking with a lone woman standing on the curb. Sgt. Labelle attempted to pull the car over after running the plates and Mr. Ratcliff took off at a high rate of speed. The vehicle attempted to elude the officer at a very high rate of speed driving through a serpentine course of the streets and disregarding all traffic signs and signals. The Officer stopped pursuing the vehicle because of the dangerous way Mr. Ratcliff was driving. The description of the Motor Vehicle was given out over the air to the other officers working in the city to be "on the lookout". Sgt. Labelle then drove to Johnson Street, the address where the plate came back to from the RMV.

"Two other officers spotted the car Mr. Ratcliff was driving in the Forest Park section of the city. They attempted to pull the vehicle over near Alderman and Dickinson Street. The Pontiac then attempted to elude the police by turning onto Grenada Terrace on the wrong side of the terrace and drove at a high rate of speed. The Pontiac then crashed as Mr. Ratcliff turned into the front lawn at 92 Grenada Terrace. The car struck a three foot cinder block wall causing heavy front end damage. The force of the accident caused both airbags to deploy. The officers on scene extricated Mr. Ratcliff from the car through the drivers side window. (The car doors were not working because of the crash. Mr. Ratcliff was placed into custody and brought to the nearby police car.  The officers called for an ambulance to check out Mr. Ratcliff because of the impact of the accident. Mr. Ratcliff spoke with the officers and the arriving E.M.T's. He complained of shortness of breath and told the EMT's that he had a heart condition and was taking heart medication. The EMT's decided to bring him to the Baystate ER. He walked to the stretcher from the police car, still talking to the EMT's . On the way to the hospital Mr. Ratcliff the patient stopped breathing. CPR was performed and Mr. Ratcliff died at the Baystate ER.

"Deputy Chief John Barbieri ( who was working the weekend) was at the scene of the accident. A thorough investigation was done of the accident and of the attempted arrest of Ratcliff. Reports were taken from the four EMT's at the scene along with all the officers who pursued the car. The District Attorneys Office has been notified and were called that night. The D.A. has all the reports. The Medical Examiner performed an autopsy today and the results are not yet available.

"Mr. Clyde Ratcliff has a history with the Springfield Police Department. Out of respect to the family I am not sending out any pictures of the deceased.Commissioner William Fitchet expressed condolences to the family of  Mr. Ratcliff during their time of mourning."

Greg Saulmon from the Republican shared this on Facebook:

"We (The Republican) originally reported on this on Tuesday afternoon (5:08 p.m.), and followed with a more in-depth story yesterday. We're continuing to follow the situation.

"The Springfield Police Department, which is pretty prolific in sending out press releases, sent the release about this incident Wednesday afternoon, at 4:36 p.m. Press ... See Morereleases are just one way we find out about what's happening at the PD -- we monitor the scanners and have reporters check in with the PD daily. But, when there's an incident that warrants an internal investigation, that tends to increase a) the length of time before the PD releases any information to the media and b) the depth of reporting / research we need to do before we can begin to publish what we've found.

"It may not suit everyone's timetable, but there are many steps we need to take to ensure the integrity of our reporting -- and that often mean that we don't rush a story to publish / print.

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