A proper criminal justice system requires accountability and transparency

·2 min read

I've worked for seven executive editors during my 24 years at the Courier & Press. One of them was Mizell Stewart III, who came to Evansville in 2007.

A lot of what Mizell did in the job stuck with me – his compassion for his co-workers, his love for the community and the professionalism with which he approached his work.

I had a lot of conversations with him during his five years here. One of them came after we'd written about the arrest of a public figure. All these years later, I don't remember who it was, but I do recall what Mizell said to me that day when we talked about how we'd handle the newspaper's most public face – the executive editor – getting arrested.

His quote was basically: "If I get arrested, the first call I'll make is to my wife. The second call will be to the newsroom so someone can write a story."

Mizell never got arrested, but the conversation was a lesson in accountability that has stayed with me. And it came to mind this week when Courier & Press journalists wrote about the arrest of a local government body's attorney, and the subsequent decision by Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding to remove that attorney's jailhouse mugshot and arrest information from his jail's website.

We wrote about the situation because it seemed unfair that Wedding removed Vanderburgh County Council attorney Jeffrey Ahlers' picture and information from public view — treatment the average person doesn't get.

Ahlers' attorney told the Courier & Press his client should never have been arrested in the first place. The Evansville Police Department has stood by its officer's decision to take Ahlers to jail that night on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Yes, innocent people get arrested. The Courier & Press has made a commitment to follow criminal charges that we write about through what can be a long, winding path through the courts. It's part of our parent company Gannett's approach to covering justice, law enforcement and community safety. We will follow through on this case, too, to see whether the prosecutor's office decides to pursue charges. And whatever the outcome is – charged or not, not guilty or guilty – we'll publish that, as well.

It's what I'd want the journalists I work with to do if I was arrested. My first call would be to my wife, to let her know I'd need an attorney. My second call would be to the C&P's criminal justice reporter, Houston Harwood.

The criminal justice system in America is far from perfect. But what we should push for, as a community, is to ensure it is an equitable process for everyone, from the people you don't know to those who hold high-profile, influential positions, like politicians, attorneys and journalists.

I hope you have an enjoyable Fourth of July weekend.

Ryan Reynolds is interim editor of the Courier & Press. Reach him via email at ryan.reynolds@courierpress.com, or follow him on Twitter, @ryanreynolds.

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: A proper criminal justice system requires accountability and transparency