Sadly, the Buffalo Bulletin is tasked again with reporting on additional sex abuse crimes. One is recent and the others happened decades ago, but because charges were never filed, they were not reported on at the time.
Typically when individuals are charged with crimes, the paper doesn’t publish the accused’s place of employment. Nor do we publish names of the defendant’s family or friends or what church, social or civic organizations the defendant belonged to – unless it is vital to reporting on the case.
The cases we are reporting this week are an exception because the perpetrators were trusted members of the community. In the most recent case, there are no known additional victims.
The older cases may too have additional victims, though all but one of the perpetrators are now deceased.
We are informing you in our editorial in an attempt to explain state law regarding sex crime cases as well as our policies for coverage.
Wyoming statute forbids court officials from releasing the name of a defendant charged with a sex crime prior to being bound over to district court.
WS 6 2 319 states that prior to the filing of an indictment in district court charging sex assault or sex abuse, “neither the names of the alleged actor or the victim of the charged offense nor any other information reasonably likely to disclose the identities of the parties shall be released” to the public.
Further, it is our policy not to publish the name of a defendant charged in a sex crime until they are arraigned in district court.
Charges can change dramatically from the initial hearing in circuit court to the arraignment in district court. Sometimes charges are dropped completely, sometimes they are amended and many times additional charges are added.
As a weekly newspaper, we have both the burden and luxury of publishing once per week. This means that sometimes it takes a day or so before an event makes headlines in the Bulletin.
But it also affords us the time to make sure that our stories are accurate. And in criminal cases this is doubly important. Peoples’ lives and reputations are at stake, and we do not want a mistake made by the newspaper to adversely impact either the victims of the crime nor the defendants charged with a crime.
Do we have a perfect track record? No. But we work very hard to ensure that our court coverage is both fair and accurate and will continue to do so.
Why make exceptions for coverage in these cases?
Because it is relevant that the perpetrators met their victims when they served as clergy or counselors of churches. Further, it is also relevant how the respective churches handled the situations. Were allegations taken seriously? Were the allegations properly investigated? Did the churches try to cover up any wrongdoing? Or did they cooperate with law enforcement? While we wish that we never had to report on crimes of this nature, we would not be doing our job if we didn’t. These crimes affect the entire community, not just the direct victims in the case.