Police defend fake news release in gang probe
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.