Po­lice de­fend fake news re­lease in gang probe

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Brian Mel­ley

los an­ge­les» Po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing a no­to­ri­ous gang in a city on California’s cen­tral coast is­sued a fake news re­lease that the chief cred­ited with sav­ing two men by de­ceiv­ing gang mem­bers who wanted to kill them, but the ruse was crit­i­cized by news or­ga­ni­za­tions who re­ported it as fact.

Santa Maria Po­lice Chief Ralph Martin de­fended the rare tac­tic last week when it came to light, say­ing he had never done such a thing in his 43-year ca­reer, but he wouldn’t rule out do­ing it again.

“It was a moral and eth­i­cal de­ci­sion, and I stand by it,” Martin said Fri­day.

The phony an­nounce­ment is­sued in Fe­bru­ary was dis­cov­ered in court doc­u­ments and only re­ported last week by the Santa Maria Sun, a weekly news­pa­per in the city 140 miles north­west of Los An­ge­les.

The daily news­pa­per and lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tions were un­aware the in­for­ma­tion in the news re­lease was false when they re­ported that two men, Jose San­tos Me­len­dez, 22, and Jose Marino Me­len­dez, 23, had been picked up for iden­tity theft and handed over to im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties.

In fact, de­tec­tives eaves­drop­ping on the deadly MS13 gang had raced to the home of the two cousins in nearby Guadalupe and took them into pro­tec­tive cus­tody af­ter learn­ing hit men were on their way there.

Ken­dra Martinez, news direc­tor at KSBY-TV, said she was “deeply trou­bled” that po­lice mis­led the pub­lic and news or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“While we strongly sup­port the po­lice depart­ment’s ef­forts to pro­tect cit­i­zens in harm’s way, we are con­cerned this type of de­cep­tion can erode the ba­sic trust of our res­i­dents and view­ers,” Martinez said.

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