MINOT, ND — Adam Martin is the founder and CEO of the
, an organization that helps current and former inmates reintegrate into society.
In a recent letter to the editor, Martin let reporters have it, arguing that the way we report crimes is often exploitative. He particularly noted the police’s use of booking mugshots.
He has a point.
Let me illustrate it with an anecdote.
Last year, a childcare provider had felony charges against her dropped for lack of evidence. Sarah Babinchak, 35, of Carpio, North Dakota, was facing two counts, including a Class B felony of child abuse and a Class B felony of aggravated assault on a child. under the age of 12, related to the injury of a child while in his care.
After prosecutors spent more than a year of taxpayers’ time and money pursuing felony charges, Babinchak
related to some minor code violations at his home daycare.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, were excoriated by District Court Judge Todd Cresap.
“So, once again, your office has put someone unnecessarily through the wringer,” he told Ward County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Sorgen during an open court hearing.
Why “once again”?
, in December 2020, Todd Schwarz, the state attorney prosecuting the Babinchak case, had to dismiss charges against a man accused of assaulting a hitchhiker because he was caught lying by turning over discovery evidence to the defence.
This man spent five months in jail, unable to post bail, before the charges were dropped.
Before that, Schwarz, who,
currently working as a Mercer County prosecutor, was fired as a McKenzie County prosecutor for “gross misconduct and negligence”.
But the Daily News article that reported these facts, which told us the story of a woman who lost her business and suffered more than a year of public humiliation for criminal charges that were not supported by evidence, which reported the judge’s brutal rebuke of the prosecutors, which revealed a prosecutor’s serial mess and his previous dismissal, gave none of this information.
The headline of the August 2021 article was: “Carpio’s former childcare provider pleads guilty to reduced charge.”
It wasn’t “Ward County prosecutors botch another case” or “judge castigates prosecutors again.”
The photo used under this title?
It wasn’t a photo of Schwarz, or Ward County attorney Roza Larson, or even Judge Cresap.
This woman, who had already been unnecessarily dragged through the mud to have the charges against her dropped, had her vindication tempered by a final slap in the face from reporters who believed the prosecution’s misdemeanor consolation conviction was a bigger story than their model of incompetence.
Every day we see crime stories and mug shots in the media. How often do we think of the human beings behind these stories? How often do we default to the prosecution narrative in these stories?
Martin argues that there are more sides to these stories.
We should listen.