Protect victims, but harm investigations?
In 2008, 78-year-old Angel Arce Torres was walking home from the grocery store when he was struck by a speeding car as he crossed Hartford's busy Park Street. The car didn't stop and Mr. Arce Torres, paralyzed from the waist down, died of his injuries a year later.
The horrible scene, showing the car hitting the pedestrian, throwing him into the air and speeding away, was captured by a security camera and released by the Hartford Police in the hope that someone would recognize the hit and run car. Local television stations, networks, newspapers and social media showed the incident repeatedly and tips on the possible identity of the driver flowed into police headquarters.
Not long after Mr. Arce Torres' death, a relative of Luis Negron of Hartford told the police she had heard Mr. Negron talking about the accident the relative had seen several times on television. This was corroborated by a girlfriend of Mr. Negron, who had told her he was involved in the TV accident. He is now serving a 10-year sentence.
Angel Arce, the victim's son, became involved in local politics and shortly before his election to the General Assembly in 2012, he took part in a Hartford rally supporting a bill allowing cities to install traffic enforcement cameras at major intersections. At the rally, he said more cameras would encourage drivers to slow down, make streets safer and could help solve cases like his father's.
"It was because of the cameras on Park Street that we were able to apprehend the person that killed my father," Mr. Arce told the rally, according to CT News Junkie. "As soon as they showed the video, people started calling. They gave us the information on who it was."
This is why the legislature, in restricting access to crime scene information in an attempt to protect victims and their families, is making a mistake. A one-size-fits-all policy could block release of information that can help stop crimes or, conversely, protect law enforcement from scrutiny that could disclose inadequacies or misconduct.
But now, the same Mr. Arce is a member of the General Assembly that secretly passed the law banning the release of video and other murder scene evidence after the Newtown killings, and he is telling a very different story.
Because of his experience, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey named Rep. Arce co-chairman of the panel responsible for finding ways to balance privacy rights with the public's need and right to know in the wake of that law. A recent meeting of the panel was devoted largely to Mr. Arce's testimony and all of it favored restricting the release of videos like the one that brought the driver who struck his father to justice.
He told the task force he doesn't want to provide that assistance to other families because of the impact of seeing the video on his family. "I do not want to see the families from Sandy Hook or anyone in the state of Connecticut go through it. We still suffer from it."
But what about his previous support for releasing crime scene photos and his statement that "it was because of the cameras on Park Street that we were able to apprehend the person that killed my father?"
It turns out that claim is now "inoperative," as President Nixon's spokesman liked to say. "Honestly, the video didn't really do anything," Mr. Arce told reporters who questioned his contradictory positions after the hearing.
So which Angel Arce are we to believe? Is it the son who agreed with the police and others that wide dissemination of the traffic video contributed to the arrest and 10-year prison term for the driver who hit his father and drove off? Or is it the politician now pushing his colleagues' passage of a misbegotten law that would impair the quest for justice for other families who, unlike those from Newtown, suffer losses at the hands of unknown killers?
The Newtown killer's identity was known soon after he acted. Other killers remain at large and law enforcement needs all the help it can find, a fact that might influence Mr. Arce's selective memory regarding his personal tragedy the next time he's asked.
The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.
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