Local attorney says Miami Herald misquoted him in a story about alleged sexual predator | Letters to the Editor | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

On Thursday, April 18, a story appeared in the Miami Herald about how the Village of Key Biscayne police and its recreation department badly handled incidents involving an individual charged as a sexual predator.

I was quoted in the article as saying that I was “particularly disturbed” by the conduct of the Village’s recreation director as “his handling of matters [was] completely inappropriate.” I was also said to have “harsh words for the police” as I purportedly said that the “police department should have been more proactive and more involved.”

The words appearing in the story bear little relationship to what I said.

The reporter called me on my cell phone while I was driving. She asked if I knew anything about how a sexual predator with a known past was allowed to work with children on Village Green. I said I knew nothing about it. She then told me her view of what her investigation had established, with particular emphasis on errors she claimed were made by the Village’s police and recreation staff. I responded that I highly regard our police and Village staff and would doubt that version of events but repeated my lack of knowledge of these particular matters. I warned her to be careful about her sources as there are people in the community who promote negative stories about the Village for a political agenda, and their negative words should be taken with a grain of salt — although I did recognize that even a stopped clock could be right twice a day.

She asked me what I would say if the Village staff ignored information about a sexual predator working with young people on Village Green. I said if that were true, it would reflect badly on the Village staff, but I thought our staff was excellent, so had difficulty accepting what she said as true.

Leaving out the critical qualifier – if that were true – and my repeated statements that I knew nothing of the facts, the story paints me as one weighing in against the Village on facts I know nothing about. The torture of my words is so extreme one can only wonder what other parts of the story might be similarly mangled to spin a narrative that perhaps could not stand without other misleading embellishments.

To be clear, the story is sensational, and the accusations salacious. The harm caused by sexual predators to their victims and their families is incalculable and forever. Because of that, local governments like ours must exercise care to identify predators and deny them opportunities to cause harm while also balancing that duty against the rights of people to an assumption of innocence. Parents carry a no less important burden — bad actors can and do slip through the cracks.

However, parents, unlike governments, can make judgments for their children without concern about a presumption of innocence. Certainly, and often sadly, the tasks of both governments and parents are most easily performed after the fact, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

After the story was published, I contacted the Herald to correct the record. That led to a call from the managing editor and a disappointing conversation that followed. How disappointing? The Herald republished the same story, including the misrepresentations attributed to me, again on Sunday.

It saddens me to realize that in the future, I will have to think twice before I talk to a reporter from the Miami Herald.

Gene Stearns

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