Post-Gazette editor protests police department’s news release with reporters’ questions

The Pittsburgh Police Department on Sunday put out a press release that included two Post-Gazette reporters’ email to the department with several questions for a story they were working on.

Diane Richard

Diane Richard

Diane Richard, the department’s public information officer, tipped other news organizations off to the P-G’s investigation when she sent the release to about 200 journalists.

Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman tells Romenesko readers:

“This is probably unprecedented and certainly unprofessional. It is a horrifying, disrespectful departure from every interchange I have had, or been witness to, with public-relations professionals in four decades in journalism.”

The Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at the Public Relations Society of America is looking into the matter, PRSA’s Arthur Yann tells me.

Here’s the release:

CITY OF PITTSBURGH BUREAU OF POLICE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: January 5, 2013
PIO Diane Richard 412-323-7814 Office 412-323-7820 Fax
diane.richard@pittsburghpa.gov

Inquiries regarding the Homicide/Suicide on New Years Day

PITTSBURGH: Per Chief Harper, I am providing the attached inquiry sent to the Chief’s Office from Jonathan Silver/Liz Navratil of the Post-Gazette regarding the Homicide/Suicide incident that took place on New Year’s Day. The Chief has stated the following: “the Bureau of Police is conducting a homicide and internal investigation into this incident to determine if all Bureau Polices and Procedures were followed. We are in the early stages of an ongoing investigation, and as such, the Bureau will not answer or provide a statement on the questions below or any media inquiries into this incident.”

[The reporters’ email that was included in the release:]

Diane:
Liz Navratil and I are preparing a story for publication about how two Zone 5 officers — Louis Schweitzer and Lance Hoyson — were dispatched 12/31 to Ka’Sandra Wade’s house at 528 Lowell St. nearly 24 hours before her body was discovered. The officers were dispatched after a female called 911 from the residence, there was a commotion, and then the line disconnected. When the officers arrived at the house a male spoke briefly with them through the window, said there was no problem and denied them entry. The officers cleared the call and left. The next night, during the SWAT standoff, Anthony Brown threw out a note retrieved by police which contained a reference to officers having had an opportunity to save Wade. Here are questions we would appreciate answers to today.

Thank you,
Jon & Liz

– What information did Schweitzer and Hoyson have about the situation when they were dispatched at
2243 hours?
– Who was dispatched and who was backup?/CONTINUES
– What information did they receive via radio from 911 and what did they receive via CAD (ie. MDT)?
– When they were dispatched for a female caller, unknown trouble, line disconnected and they were
met at the door by a man who didn’t let them in, was it appropriate for them to clear the call without
ascertaining whether there was a female inside and her status?
– What consultation if any did the officers have with their supervisor about whether to clear the call
after 10 minutes at 2301 hours?
– What consultation if any did the officers have with a city police supervisor at the 911 center and/or a
911 center supervisor about whether to clear the call?
– Who was the Zone 5 lieutenant and who were the Zone 5 sergeants on duty at the time of the call?
– What shift were the officers working (that is, when were they due to end their shfits)?
– What police supervisory presence at the 911 center was there?
– What is the bureau’s protocol for officers responding to such a call about how to handle it and when
to clear?
– Are the officers under internal investigation (bureau or OMI) for their actions? Or is there an internal
investigation ongoing about the circumstances surrounding the handling of this call?
– Did Brown throw officers a note during the standoff? If so, please provide details.
– What did the note say?
– What specific reference did Brown’s note make to officers being able to aid or save Wade?
– Were the officers questioned by homicide detectives about their actions?
– If so, did the officers have any FOP representation present?
– Have police confirmed that Anthony Brown was the person who spoke with the officers at Wade’s
residence on 12/31? If so, when did that confirmation occur?
– Have police confirmed whether Wade was the caller to 911 on 12/31?
– What concern is there if any among police brass that the officers did not act thoroughly to ascertain
the status of a female caller to 911 whose call was disconnected when they were confronted with a
man who said all is well and refused to let them in?
– Why have police not previously released information about this call
********

I’ve asked Richard for comment. UPDATE: “The responses have been per the direction of Police Chief Harper,” she writes.

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