|NMU||ALABAMA||Newsgathering||Jun 20, 2001|
Media report murder-for-hire based on bogus press release
- A fake news release was used by police to convince a woman that a hitman she thought she hired had completed the job.
A fictional news release issued by the Mobile Police Department sparked criticism from the media regarding the department’s unconventional tactics.
The phony release was aimed to catch a woman who tried to hire a hitman. In order to assure an arrest, police reported that they found a dead body on Halls Mill Road.
A local television station and the Associate Press each ran reports based on the false release on June 14.
“As a news organization we were very disappointed,” said WKRG News Director Dan Cates, whose station aired a segment about the counterfeited murder-for-hire on the morning news. “Based on their information, which we thought to be truthful, we unknowingly reported a false story to thousands of people.”
The fake news release was part of an investigation involving Jasmin Marie Reese, 20, who attempted to hire a hitman to kill a woman she believed stole her boyfriend. Reese offered about $500 to an undercover police officer to murder the woman. In attempting to arrest Reese, investigators decided to fool her into believing the crime was committed, said Cpt. Pat Mitchell. Reese was arrested for criminal solicitation to commit murder.
“The initial intention by investigators was good, but in itself was a monumental lack of judgment,” Cates said.
The Mobile police retracted the phony press release about two hours after issuing it and said it was “improper as well as premature and is not consistent with the practices of the Mobile Police Department,” according to a statement signed by Cpl. John Goodwin.
Apparently the police investigators withheld from the department spokesman the fictional nature of the press release. According to local television news directors, Goodwin, the police public information officer, attempted to rectify the situation as soon as he learned of the covert plan and later issued a statement assuring the media that an investigation of the improper release of information was underway.
Goodwin was not available for comment.
A Fox affiliate station, WALA, rushed to the phony crime scene to record footage for the morning news. Goodwin informed the news station of the retraction before it broadcast a story.
WALA Assignment Director Chuck Lipscomb was grateful that the station was notified, however he remained upset over the situation.
“We were very opposed, very concerned, and very angry that the police department would use the media outlets for their investigative purposes,” he said. “I had a personal and a professional anger.”
The Mobile Register did not receive the press release, but picked up the story based on the television reports. Managing Editor Dewey English was nonetheless critical of the police practice.
“You cannot have false or fantasy statements of dead bodies,” English said. “It’s small things like this that do enormous damages to the credibility of the state. How will we know if the next thing is true?”
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press