Pursuing Kobe Bryant
Last Tuesday, Assistant Editor Randy Wyrick fielded a wild-sounding tip: Basketball star Kobe Bryant, in town for knee surgery, was accused by a 19-year-old local woman of sexual assault June 30, in Cordillera.
So the circus began. Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers wunderkind with the squeaky clean image, indeed was being investigated by local authorities, we learned. Not that the county’s law enforcement leaders would be straight about it. And that was understandable, at least at first.
No, the scoop of the investigation came from anonymous others. And it was a fairly tight loop of those who knew about it. That’s understandable, too. Felony crime allegations, especially of this nature, need to be handled with great care. The investigation must be rigorous and diligent. The process that leads to the prosecutors deciding whether and what charges should be brought ought to be impeccable. Too bad a rookie sheriff went cowboying off a protocol that should have been followed all the more to the letter, given the national attention this case would attract.
We at the Daily decided early that the fairest, most responsible tact for us would be to see whether a warrant were issued, an arrest made or charges otherwise filed before running a story on the allegations against Bryant. Sure, it was very tempting to run a story Thursday or Friday that an investigation was under way, based on anonymous sources. But would that be fair to anyone concerned if the accusations turned out to be unfounded?
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told Wyrick he’d call when something happened. Wyrick learned that the District Attorney’s Office had arranged with Bryant’s attorneys to make no moves until Monday. The DA, we might remind Sheriff Joe Hoy, is supposed to be the one who decides whether there’s a case to prosecute or not. Hulbert said Sunday night he had not reviewed the evidence yet.
Hoy, who Thursday night at first pretended to have never heard of Kobe Bryant in a conversation with the editor about the case, arranged for some unfathomable reason to have Bryant secretly booked and released on $25,000 bond from Eagle County’s jail on the Fourth of July. Then he waited until Sunday evening to release the news, surprising not only us but the district attorney.
The lawyers for Bryant seized on the breach and accused the Sheriff’s Office of mishandling the case out of bias. And the Daily wound up reporting – with the rest of the news media – on a case that had no charges. And still has no charges.
The kindest observation of our new sheriff, still fresh from road patrol, is he’s in over his head. Simple common sense might have been a good guide, however.