When does having a pair of reporters show up at your doorstep make you a "victim" of harassment? The answer, it seems, is when you live in the town of Croswell and the doorstep in question belongs to the mayor of that tiny Sanilac County burg.
Readers of this rag are aware of the fine two-part series Metro Times reporter Sandra Svoboda recently wrote about Fredrick Freeman, a man whom supporters bleeding hearts who include a former FBI agent, a hard-bitten private investigator and a longtime television newsman say has spent 20 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit.
Well, last week we received a letter from Croswell Police Chief Dave Hall warning us that Svoboda and any other MT employee could be feeling the long arm of the law if we have the audacity to ever again contact the family of Scott Macklem, who was gunned down in the parking lot of St. Clair County Community College in 1986.
A similar letter was sent to WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), workplace of ace reporter Bill Proctor, who has been looking into this story for more than a decade.
According to a police report the Croswell PD provided us, a visit by Svoboda (who also called and left phone messages) and Proctor to the home of Macklem's parents, Patricia and Gary (Croswell's mayor), prompted Patricia, who was interrupted by a knock at her door while in the middle of a shower, to call the local cop shop. A squad car was there within three minutes, but the two newshounds had already gone, leaving as soon as Mrs. Macklem slammed her door on them.
Reporters get doors shut in their faces all the time. It's part of the business. What doesn't happen all the time is getting a certified letter indicating you or anyone else working for your publication could be arrested if you continue trying to do your job.
But that's exactly what happened last week when we received letters (one addressed to Svoboda, the other to the paper in general) ordering us to have no phone, e-mail or personal contact with four members of the Macklem family.
We were a bit confused, so News Hits called the chief. Didn't a personal protective order have to go through a court, with evidence being presented and a judge signing off on it, for it to have the effect of law?
That's certainly what David M. Giles, counsel to WXYZ, and Michigan Press Association attorney Dawn Phillips Hertz indicated was the case. In a letter to Hall, Giles characterized the letter as an "overbearing attempt" to influence the actions of reporters and called the demands "preposterous."
Hall, who was quite cordial during our conversation, explained that this wasn't a PPO, but rather a warning that we could be cited under the state's stalking law if we persisted in trying to make contact with the Macklems. Hall also asked us to consider the matter from the perspective of the Macklem family, which he said had nothing to add to the story and just wanted to be left alone.
Stalking? Have these guys ever heard of something called the First Amendment?
We understand how painful it must be to have a wound as deep as that caused by the death of a family member reopened. And, as Chief Hall explained, our visit wasn't the first over the years from reporters and investigators showing up at the Macklem house. Certainly we're sensitive to that. But, frankly, we had an ethical obligation to try to contact the family to get their perspective on the claims that Freeman was not the man who murdered Scott, and that the real killer is still roaming free.
Asked what he thought about it all, Proctor told News Hits that he's "certainly sorry for any difficulty" the Macklem family may be suffering from all this, but that Freeman's life "is at stake, and we need to do everything possible including getting to the facts of what the young victim's life was all about, to make sure this life is saved."
We couldn't agree more.
Note: Michigan's relatively new Executive Clemency Advisory Council was scheduled to review Freeman's case on Tuesday. An update of the council's action if any is taken will be provided at www.metrotimes.com.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com