Ryan Frederick Update: Virginian-Pilot Columnist Gets Her Facts Wrong

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

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?

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28 Responses to “Ryan Frederick Update: Virginian-Pilot Columnist Gets Her Facts Wrong”

  1. #1 |  Mojotron3000 | 

    Kerry Dougherty : Whom should we believe, the guy behind bars or the man behind the badge?

    I’m going with “the guy who’s telling the truth”, no matter what costume he has on at the time.

  2. #2 |  ktc2 | 

    That’s an easy choice.

    Anybody else > thug with badge

  3. #3 |  Andrew | 

    Whom should we believe, the guy behind bars or the man behind the badge?

    She asks that like there’s an obvious answer, like we should automatically assume that the police officer is always telling the truth and the man behind bars is always lying. Because that’s so often proven to be true, right? Right?

  4. #4 |  omar | 

    Please don’t confuse the poor lady with facts, Radly. The last line gives this article away – we are talking about “who is better”, not “who is right”.

    Kerry Dougherty, don’t be such a such a suck-up wuss. The police have demonstratively lied. Grow a pair and stand up for what’s right, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable to trust a black man in jail over a white pillar of your community.

  5. #5 |  Rick Caldwell | 

    Kerry’s married to a local judge. Any questions?

  6. #6 |  SusanK | 

    My favorite part:
    Chesapeake officers communicate with informants only when another officer is present
    Of course they do. Documented and official communications are with other officers present, so they can deny any communications they have that wouldn’t be quite, um, proper.

  7. #7 |  Jim Collins | 

    Ok. So the facts are wrong, but the intent of the story is right.

    For those of you who don’t recognize sarcasm see above statement.

  8. #8 |  Episiarch | 

    Kerry’s married to a local judge. Any questions?

    I had been guessing a cop or prosecutor, but that still fits.

  9. #9 |  Nick T | 

    Why didn’t she just say “..or the HERO behind the badge risking his life everyday?”

    So I was sitting in jury duty the other day (my employment as a lawyer with the state’s public defender made me victim to the prosecutor’s peremptory challenge – though I a practice family law), a question was asked to the pool at alrge of: would you be more inclined to believe a civilian over a police officer simply because they were a civilian? (This was question was aksed immediately after the inverse question.)

    While I thought maybe I might agree with this, I felt it would seem silly and unfair to be forced to answer this question in the affirmative and thus possibly disqualified from jury duty as a person of bias. So not only could police officers everywhere lie all the time and benefit from that, but their own track record of horrible lying all over the place would benefit them by keeping liberty-minded, intelligent people off the jury simply becuase they came to the only reasonable conclusion they could?

    While we may never know for sure, anyone who thinks that a veteran police officer is unlikely to have told dozens of lies in the line of duty is a moron.

  10. #10 |  SJE | 

    “New Professionalism!”

  11. #11 |  bob | 

    “It’s been eight months since that burglary. Why haven’t the two men been charged for it?”

    Duh! Perhaps the fact that the federal government provides lucrative financial incentives for drug busts has a lot to do with shifting local law enforcement effort away from violent/property crime and toward the continuing insanity that is the federally mandated war on drugs.

    It’s just a shame that so few of the 500+ congress critters that could change things won’t even allow a floor discussion on the topic, and the few brave ones that want such are labeled as kooks and nutjobs by otherwise reputable publications and sites.

    Let’s face it. The drug prohibition industry has the government wrapped around it’s nasty little finger, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

  12. #12 |  Highway | 

    Nick, so the prosecutor can ask that question? Is the defense allowed to ask the opposite thing, and disqualify anyone who says yes?

    I had some faith in the judiciary system… until I learned about voir dire. Now my opinion is that it’s just a conviction mill, run to suit judges and prosecutors and put anyone who’s stuck in front of a jury in jail.

  13. #13 |  Nick T | 


    The judge asked this question to all potential jurors at once. Jurors just held up their juror number to answer yes to these general questions. The inverse question (more inclined to believe cops) was asked immediately before that.

  14. #14 |  Cynical In CA | 

    Two words: jury nullification.

  15. #15 |  Andrew Williams | 

    If the CPD spin this story any faster the entire county will start spinning backwards.

  16. #16 |  Franco | 

    I just revisited the Kerry Dougherty’s on-line article and noticed that the comments pointing out the idiocy of her closing line have been deleted. It appears the Virgina Pilot engages in revisionist history in real time.

  17. #17 |  Lloyd Flack | 

    #14 Cynical in CA,

    What do you need jury nullification for here? As far as I can see, on the evidence available the proper verdict according to law should be not guilty on all charges.

    Now I would give a positive declaration of innocence in addition, that is a declaration that the prosecution’s case had been proven to be false. And in addition I would vote for a write in verdict that the prosecution was guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice. No legal force of course, but the look on the prosecutors’ faces would be a joy to behold.

  18. #18 |  Paul | 

    Maybe I am just dim, but I think the most important question is whether or not it is true that Fredericks knew that the cops would be coming and was laying in wait for them. If so it’s murder, regardless of all these other circumstances. If Fredericks was indeed surprised and confused in the middle of the night and fired on unknown intruders, it is self defense.

    All of this other stuff seems to me a sideshow. Did shady cops hire shady burglars to break into houses and look for dope? Probably–and there should be punishment for that. But does any of this answer the question of whether or not Fredericks knew he was firing on police?

  19. #19 |  freedomfan | 

    Paul, I think you are correct that “laying in wait” doesn’t go well with legal self-defense. (I think you are obligated to remove yourself from danger beforehand if you reasonably can.)

    But, just out of curiosity, does that mean that if you think corrupt police are illegally breaking in to your home at night – possibly to frame you, plant drugs, kill your dogs, and kill you – then firing on them would be murder. But, if non-badge-holders are doing the same thing, then it would be self-defense?

    I thought self-defense had to do with whether you reasonably thought your life was in danger. There was a time to presume that the police didn’t break into peoples’ homes on drug raids and kill occupants (by accident or otherwise). I don’t know if the current policies and procedures justify that assumption. It is becoming another casualty of the drug “war” and no-knock, militarized raid tactics.

  20. #20 |  freedomfan | 

    BTW, the police tactics not a just side-show; they are inextricably linked to how this case will play out. The real-world justice system doesn’t rely on mind-reading (mostly), so there is no way for the prosecution to prove what Frederick thought was coming through his door without presenting the evidence. That the police might well have used illegal means to gather that evidence means that some of it may be excluded from trial, which makes those means rather important to the case.

  21. #21 |  Highway | 

    I thought self-defense had to do with whether you reasonably thought your life was in danger.

    This only counts if you are a police officer anymore. Recent court rulings (like Corey Maye’s) show that it doesn’t matter how scared you were for your life if you are up against a police officer, whether you know they are police or not.

  22. #22 |  Marty | 

    Kerry Dougherty is pretty hard-headed and proud of it… She responded to a couple of emails I sent her when the case was new and she’s not shy about saying it’s her opinion column and she doesn’t have to be fair and balanced.

    She’s not someone I think I could drink a beer with.

  23. #23 |  Bronwyn | 

    Well, no, I suppose an opinion column doesn’t have to be fair and balanced, but an opinion column should at least be well-reasoned, right?

    Even the “rant” columns in reason magazine are more than just incoherent sputtering.

    She’s an idiot.

  24. #24 |  witless chum | 

    “Well, no, I suppose an opinion column doesn’t have to be fair and balanced, but an opinion column should at least be well-reasoned, right?”

    Not fair and balanced, no, but in theory you’re not supposed to make up facts, as Radley seems to have nailed her doing here.

  25. #25 |  Red Green | 

    Remember back when search warrants were served by two detectives with two backups,in broad daylight? So tragic ,how prohibition has opened the door to tyranny. Time to shut the door, for freedom.

  26. #26 |  Old Dawg | 

    Red Green, actually, it’s more like remember when they needed to get a warrant. Saw this link here the other day but it disappeared. Frightening but these kinds of stories are more common every day http://www.tonycreed.com/taskforceraid.html

    We are being conditioned to think there’s nothing unusual about local police being dressed and armed like the military because this type of policing will be necessary as we enter the third world order.

  27. #27 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Ryan Frederick Update | 

    […] for the errors and Dougherty’s last column about the Ryan Frederick case (explained in this post). So far, no correction. And it wasn’t a subtle error. Doughtery misstated some substantial […]

  28. #28 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Kerry Dougherty Makes Fat Jokes | 

    […] columnist Kerry Dougherty (who has thus far proven to be a reliable (if not always accurate) defender of the Chesapeake Police Department) today outdoes herself, by cracking jokes at the fact […]