What a strange column by Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty this morning.
Dougherty, you might remember, wrote a column last February in which she excoriated bloggers, activists, and other journalists for daring to question the police in the Frederick case, then floated the idea (later adopted by the prosecution) that the state somehow deserves a change of venue because as they learn more about the case, the Chesapeake jury pool seems to be showing less and less deference toward the police.
This morning, Dougherty basically turns her column over to Chesapeake Police Chief Kelvin Wright, so he can refute what Renaldo Turnbull, Jr. said in interviews with me and with Virginian-Pilot reporter John Hopkins.
Doughtery begins with a non sequitur, invoking a prior case where a convicted murderer protested his innocence to the media, and was later proven to have lied. I guess her point is that criminals sometimes lie. It’s a bizarre way to begin a column defending the police, given that much of the state’s case against Ryan Frederick right now rests on the word of two men that the prosecutors acknowledge are criminals.
But it gets worse. In her rush to defend the honor of Chesapeake PD, Dougherty then botches the details of what Turnbull actually told her own paper’s reporter.
First, Dougherty writes:
In a front-page story in The Pilot last week, Turnbull not only claimed to be one of the confidential informants Chesapeake police relied upon to get a search warrant for the address of suspected drug dealer Ryan Frederick earlier this year, but he said the cops knew in advance that he and another thief were going to burglarize Frederick’s property.
The first part of this sentence simply isn’t true. Turnbull didn’t tell me or Hopkins that he was the informant in the Frederick case. He was rather clear that the other man, “Steven,” was the informant. Steven was picked up on charges of credit card theft and fraud, then cut a deal with the cops. According to Turnbull, Steven then contacted him to assist in the break-in, because the two had worked together with the police on other cases for several months. The two of them then broke into Frederick’s home. But it was Steven who worked directly with the cops on the Frederick case, and Steven is the one police refer to in the warrant as the informant. Turnbull explicitly told me he had no dealing with the police on Frederick’s case.
It was Steven who told Turnbull that the police had okayed the burglary ahead of time. But that obviously jibed with Turnbull’ss own dealings with the police on prior occasions, where the police similarly either encouraged or gave tacit approval to burglaries for the purpose of gathering evidence.
Dougherty is flat wrong on the facts, here.
Dougherty makes a similar mistake later in the column:
The chief dismissed Turnbull’s claims that he had a private phone conversation with Shivers in which the detective gave him permission to burglarize Frederick’s garage.
It was Shivers’ partner who was the lead investigator on the Frederick case, Wright said, not Shivers himself. Besides that, Chesapeake officers communicate with informants only when another officer is present.
Wright said that when the inmate claimed he had an incriminating conversation with Shivers, he cast aspersions on the only officer in the city “who cannot defend himself.”
Again, that isn’t what Turnbull said. Here’s the passage from Hopkins’ article that Dougherty is referring to:
Turnbull said he met with Shivers once and talked with him on the phone on other occasions. During a meeting at a 7-Eleven store near the intersection of Battlefield Boulevard and Cedar Road in Chesapeake, Shivers introduced himself.
“He told me what to look for. He said, if you know of any burglaries or anything, let Steven know… He said no evidence, no pay… He said if you know where it is, go get it.”
Nowhere in that passage does it say that the 7-11 meeting between Shivers and Turnbull or any of the phone conversations between the two were in any way related to the Frederick case. That’s because they weren’t. Turnbull was recounting his experiences with Shivers in other cases. Remember, Turnbull said he and Steven had been working with the police for several months. Remember also that in the search warrant for the Frederick raid, the officer explained that he had been working with this particular informant for several months. These continuing consistencies between Turnbull’s statements and verifiable facts from other parts of the case–some of which weren’t public at the time Turnbull first spoke with Hopkins last February–are what make this portion of Turnbull’s story so credible.
The big problem Chief Wright doesn’t address, of course, is why the police didn’t disclose on the warrant that their probable cause had been obtained via an illegal burglary. The fact that the burglary wasn’t disclosed, again, lends credence to Turnbull’s statement that these burglaries were common practice. If you’re an honest, by-the-book narcotics cop who serendipitously happened upon a marijuana grow thanks to information you gleaned from someone you arrested on an unrelated burglary charge, you don’t neglect to mention the burglary in your search warrant affidavit, and then accidentally refer to the burglar as a trusted informant with whom you’ve been working for several months.
Also of note: It has since been revised, but in Hopkins’ original article yesterday, he noted that Chief Wright wouldn’t answer any of Hopkins’ questions about Turnbull. Wright told Hopkins both that he didn’t have time, and that he wouldn’t comment on police informants (no one at Chesapeake PD returned my calls, either). The article is now edited to appear as if Wright’s denials went straight to Hopkins. They didn’t. Wright’s comments in Hopkins’ article are just a rehashing of what he said to Dougherty. You might note that Dougherty is now listed as a contributor at the bottom of Hopkins’ article.
Strange, isn’t it?, that Chief Wright wouldn’t have the time to speak with Hopkins, but would have time to speak with Dougherty, an opinion columnist and pro-police partisan. Hopkins has a better grasp on the details of the case (obviously), was the person who spoke directly with Turnbull, and would have been able to ask pointed follow-up questions of Chief Wright.
Okay. So come to think of it, maybe Chief Wright’s inability to find time to talk with Hopkins isn’t so strange after all.
Finally, Chief Wright denied to Dougherty that Turnbull was ever a police informant, and also denied that he was one of the burglars prosecutors referenced at the hearing earlier this month. If that’s true, Turnbull’s a pretty gifted bullshit artist. Because he gave Hopkins details about the raid and about Frederick’s home that weren’t public at the time. He also seems to know quite a bit about being an informant. At the hearing, prosecutors also very clearly mentioned “burglars,” in the plural. If Turnbull wasn’t one of them, it’ll be interesting to see who they do end up trotting out as Steven’s accomplice.
Oh yeah, one more question: At the hearing, prosecutors acknowledged that the two “burglars” on whose word much of their case rests did in fact illegally break into Ryan Frederick’s home–their choice of the word “burglar” sorta’ implies as much. It’s been eight months since that burglary. Why haven’t the two men been charged for it?