The death of retired Pasadena Police Lt. David Richter has highlighted the need for responsible journalism in a time when tabloid reporting and the sentiments of bloggers are confused with news.
Richter’s abandoned car was found
by a water-filled pit in Irwindale last January. Police assumed the
retired lieutenant had either taken his own life or simply walked
away from his financial troubles.
The later discovery of
Richter’s corpse and a firearm under a nearby overpass seems to corroborate the theory that Richter took his own life. But then there’s the
conspiracy theorists, and admittedly the case possesses all the
potential of a Law and Order episode.
Thursday, I read an
article by Andre Coleman of the Pasadena
Weekly. Buried on page 13, the article uses an unnamed source and
anonymous letter to create speculation amongst readers. After a short
recap of the facts, Coleman delves into a lengthy digress about an
anonymous letter sent to members of the Pasadena City Council. The letter
alleges everything from police malfeasance to racism.
sublimation of this anonymous letter leads to another anonymous
“According to an earlier
conversation with one coroner’s office employee who did not wish to
be named, among the factors that may have led authorities to reopen
the case (the case was
never closed) was that a gun found near Richter’s body
appeared to have been fired four times, and one bullet remained in
Keeping in mind that they are a tabloid, I find it alarming
that the Pasadena Weekly published this story. Had someone in the coroner’s office made the statement, a statement that Los Angeles County Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter doubts the legitimacy of, I would have written it off as conjecture, rather
than present it as news. How would someone in the coroner’s office
know this information? According to Winter, homicide detectives would
have taken the weapon and run ballistics on it, not the coroners
office. While the article spends ample time on anonymous sources, it
fails to mention Richter’s financial possible motives for Richter to commit suicide.
Prior to writing my
article on Richter, I searched for reliable information,
unfortunately reliable sources of information weren’t permitted to
Friday I spoke with
a psychic who claims the spirit of David Richter awakens her every
morning seeking justice for his murder.
Monday morning I
listened to a voice-mail from an anonymous caller who presented
himself as law enforcement by using the word “we” often in
his rant. I listened to the message several times in an ill-fated
attempt to extract meaningful insight.
“You’ll never find out what
happened, because that’s what happens to us good cops when we make
promises we can’t keep.”
What promises? Promises to financial
institutions involving adjustable rate mortgages?
After racking my
brain for three days I had an epiphany: there probably isn’t any
credible information indicating Richter’s death was anything but a
Let’s face it,
Richter was a retired cop and retired cops kill themselves. By the
age of 55 Richter had spent his entire adult life in law enforcement, and didn’t have a spouse or children.
Police who survive
years of service, only to take their own lives after retirement is not a new concept. My own grandfather retired after 30 years as a
Philadelphia homicide detective, and spent the next ten years
drinking himself to death.
Sure, it’s possible that
Richter caught a bullet during an old-west-style shootout
with a crooked cop. However, it’s far more likely that
Richter was lamenting his career, his impending financial doom, and a Christmas without not only kin but comrade, last holiday season when he died.
Regardless of what
happened to Richter, it’s important that journalists remember their
role: to report the news not create it. That’s why I take it as a
compliment when bloggers like Aaron Proctor recognize me with a “ham
and egger” award for “stealing” a story. So long as
the Associated Press continues to recognize the difference between
news coverage and misleading narratives, there just might be hope
for the media and the role it should play in our society.