Eric Flack’s counterpoint to PBS Frontline: Lock up more kids, before they rape and rob you

Last Tuesday, PBS’ Frontline aired an amazing hour and a half-long special on how the criminal justice system has devastated one particular neighborhood in west Louisville, Beecher Terrace. In fact, 1 in 6 people living in Beecher Terrace will spend time in jail or prison, which alone costs $15 million per year. A particular focus of the show was the juvenile justice system in Kentucky, which spends $50 million per year incarcerating juveniles — a large majority of which are non-violent offenders — which costs $87,000 per inmate, per year.

The Frontline show was full of depth, facts and research, showing a criminal justice system in Kentucky that spends way too much money on locking adults and children behind bars, when less-costly treatment and social programs actually do a better job of reducing recidivism.

The following night on WAVE3, the “Troubleshooter” Eric Flack did a story on the same subject, but it was quite different. Instead of Louisville’s shame being the fact that we lock up kids for minor crimes at amongst the highest rates in the nation, with terrible outcomes, Flack’s story strongly suggested that we don’t lock up enough kids, many of which are out on our streets raping and robbing to their hearts’ content tonight, as we speak, so we should be very angry and afraid.

wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather

It’s been a while since we did a detailed analysis of the deception, misdirection and fear-mongering that Flack calls journalism, with his use of selective and incomplete facts, so we’ll take another frame-by-frame crack at Flack’s segment below.

Anchors: “Rape. Assault. Robbery. Louisville teenagers getting charged with those crimes and more, only to be let back out on the street just hours later. WAVE3 Troubleshooter Eric Flack made that startling discovery during his exclusive investigation into the Jefferson County juvenile justice system. Eric took what he found to judges and police to find out how and why it’s happening.”

A lovely string of one-word sentences right there to grab the viewers’ attention and scare the hell out of them. Oh, and this is “exclusive,” because while stories on this subject aren’t new, no one is willing to give you the scare you really deserve other than WAVE3.

VIDEO: Black teens walking in Bader’s on March 22.

Flack: “This is the security camera footage that brought the juvenile justice debate into focus.”

VIDEO: Black teens force their way into Bader’s.

flack 1 gas station

flack 2 gas station

Why bury the lede, right? Nothing will give you the proper context of scary black teens than the March 22 sercurity footage. Also, note the use of the word “debate.” Surely this means Flack will give all sides of the issue the proper time and attention with a full airing of the facts.

Flack: “Roving teenage gangs terrorized people downtown last month, the mob estimated at 200. Criminal indictments more than 20. Arrests? Only 7.

Gangs. Terror. Mob. Check, check, check.

FOP’s Mutchler: “We have officers out there that are demoralized and frustrated, because there is nothing… they feel like there is nothing they can do.”

Flack: “Why not? Listen to what Sgt. Dave Mutchler, president of the Louisville Metro police officers’ union, told the Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee a few week ago.”

Mutchler: “The juvenile justice system, I have no other way to put it to you, it’s a joke.”

Flack:”We wanted to see what has Mutchler and other officers so upset…”

VIDEO: Flack with his highlighter working hard.

flack 1 highlighter

flack 2 highlighter

There’s a problem, but Flack and his pink highlighter are on the case.

Flack: “…so the WAVE3 News Troubleshooter department analyzed data on more than 9,400 juvenile arrests since 2011. Juveniles were processed and release without seeing the inside of a jail cell 83 percent of the time. That included teens facing charges for rape, felony assault, robbery, prostitution, trafficking drugs near a school, and guns.”

VIDEO: AOC records focused on serious felonies.

flack 3 prostitution

So 83 percent of violent felons are just let loose on the street? Flack certainly seems to be saying this, but maybe he will come back and give us some more details.

Also… prostitution? Flack appears to be outraged that a child victim of human trafficking isn’t locked up in jail. Hey, but maybe he’ll explain that later, too.

Mutchler: “There are juveniles out and about on out street that have very recently committed serous crimes, and right now they’re out with the ability to do it again, right now. At some point, that’s ridiculous.”

VIDEO: Kid with baggy pants walking.

flack 1 baggy pants

Look, there’s one of those kids with baggy pants roaming free and walking the streets without handcuffs. It’s unclear whether he is a rapist or just someone who robs people at gunpoint. We can only guess what’s in his pocket.

Flack: “We took what we found to Jefferson County juvenile court Judge Dee McDonald.”

VIDEO: Flack struts into court building and McDonald’s office.

flack 1 strut

flack 2 strut

Aha! This is always our favorite part of Flack’s stories, where he busts the villain in person and exposes them face to face, so all the world can see their treachery.

McDonald: “Treatment is the priority, not detention.”

VIDEO: Flack gives McDonald his WTF look.

flack 1 judge

Busted! This silly liberal judge actually thinks that violent criminals shouldn’t be locked away, but let out on the streets with so-called “treatment.” Does she not even care about the overwhelming evidence that Flack laid out? Please proceed, judge…

Flack: “Court workers fill out these ‘risk assessment forms’ when juveniles are brought to the youth detention center to determine whether or not they are detained, or released to a parent, guardian or emergency shelter, like YMCA’s Safe Place.”

McDonald: “And part of what I look for is are these children going to reoffend, and are they going to be a danger in the community, and are they going to come back to court.”

So far, we have not been given any context on how many juveniles are serious violent offenders, nor how detaining youth affects recidivism. But I’m sure Flack will get to that eventually.

Flack: “In fact, some of the juveniles are never even brought down to the youth detention center. Our analysis revealed in the majority of cases, police who arrest youth offenders end up releasing them outright. A result, Mutchler says, of department and corrections policy.”

VIDEO: Flack and his highlighter again.

flack 3 highlighter
flack 4 highlighter

A majority of what cases? Flack has only mentioned rapists and violent felons, so I guess these are who the police are letting go, until we’re told otherwise. One might also ask why the liberal judge is the villain if the police are actually letting most of them go. Surely that assumption will be corrected.

Flack: “These kids run from police, get caught, and police have to turn around and let them go!!”

Mutchler: “Yes.”

Flack: “That’s… gotta be frustrating.”

Mutchler: “Well, it’s extremely frustrating.”

“These kids” being rapists and armed robbers, of course. Since we haven’t been introduced to any other kind of criminal besides child victims of human trafficking and drug dealers.

McDonald: “I’m sure they are frustrated in many ways, but our system is set up through the juvenile code, and the court must follow that.”

VIDEO: Thick criminal code book, McDonald’s name on top.

flack 1 book
flack 2 book

Aha, the juvenile code! That thick book of bureaucracy is to blame for letting those thousands of rapists and armed robbers back on the street. Flack makes sure to let the viewer see McDonald’s name on the book that she must love so much.

Flack: “In 2011, McDonald said judges, prosecutors, and the head of the youth detention center decided to FURTHER reduce the number of juveniles they locked up, by making release MANDATORY for anything by felons and serous misdemeanors.”

Note that “further” and “mandatory” are spit out by Flack like vile curse words to highlight the insanity of letting more kids out of jail who have minor charges. Wait, minor charges? Flack hasn’t gone into those yet, as we’ve only heard of rapists, armed robbers, and victims of human trafficking. Maybe he’ll get to what those minor charges are, and how many of these kids he’s wanting to lock up have such charges.

Flack: “And this year the number of juveniles detained after an arrest is at its lowest level in the time we studied, down to 14 percent.”

VIDEO: Hands in cuffs, “14 percent” shown.

flack 1 cuffs

14 percent?! That’s obviously going in the wrong direction. I’m still guessing the 86 percent are the violent kids with baggy pants walking freely down the street that he’s talking about.

Now it’s time for Flack to K.O. McDonald with his evidence of her failure.

Flack: “Have you guys swung the pendulum too far, towards letting too many of them out on the street, too soon?”

McDonald: “I think as long as they are monitored with the systems that we have in place, very few reoffend.”

VIDEO: March 22 Bader’s security footage again of black youth.

Monitored? Systems? What is she talking about? Maybe we’ll hear some context on drug and mental health treatment programs, and how such social services work in reducing recidivism compared to incarceration?

Flack: “Still, Mutchler says what happened on that now INFAMOUS night in March should be a wakeup call.”

Mutchler: “Some juveniles are bad. They’re not good kids. They weren’t just ‘turning their life around.’ They’ve already gotten so far into the criminal culture that something different has to be done.”

VIDEO: Child in a hoodie being taken away by police.

flack 1 hoodie
flack 2 hoodie

Look at that kid in the hoodie going into the cop car. He’s just “bad,” you know? We still don’t know how many are violent rapists and robbers, so maybe we should just assume that “some” means “most.”

Flack: “So what’s the solution?”

OK, now Flack is here to give us the answer to the roving mob of gang rapists and armed robbers.

Flack: “Police want tougher laws with more jail time for juveniles facing serious crimes, especially violent offenses.”

So how many are “serious” and “violent,” again? Surely, Flack will give those figures eventually.

Flack: “People like Judge McDonald say locking kids up who might be teetering on the fence of a life of crime only leads them further down the wrong path. She says the investment needs to be in additional treatment and services in the home, and programs to keep kids occupied and out of trouble.”

OK, now Flack is getting to the “debate” he mentioned earlier. Now we’ll get into the non-violent offenders with statistics on how treatment and programs are more effective at reducing recidivism than locking up hundreds of them in jail for months at a time.

Flack: “Eric Flack, WAVE3 News.”

Or not.

Since Flack wasn’t interested in giving the full context and facts behind this issue, let’s take a crack at it right now.

Flack appears to be using his 83 and 86 percent figures by adding all of the juveniles charged with offenses, and counting those who were released by Court Designated Workers (CDW) or police, compared to those who are kept in detention.

First of all, those children released by CDW are not necessarily “free running the streets” as WAVE3 says. In fact, these children may very well be released to a drug treatment or mental health program, or be strictly monitored by a social worker and face possible re-arrest if they don’t follow their guidelines. There was no mention of this by Flack.

Second, Flack’s story heavily blames the juvenile code and court system for letting all of these dangerous kids loose without serving time in jail. However, our review of the same AOC records from 2011 to 2013 shows that 84 percent of children set free are released by the police before ever reaching the court system. Flack highlights the most serious charges among those children released — the only charges he mentions in his story — but almost every single kid over these years charged with 1st Degree Rape, Robbery, Assault or Sodomy was released by a police officer, not the juvenile court system. Again, the release of those kids is at the feet of police.

Third, let’s talk about what those kids who are being released are charged with, which Flack never bothers to do. Among those released by police, the largest chunk are for simple drug possession or paraphernalia, roughly 25 percent. The other charges include speeding, disregarding a traffic light, failure to illuminate head lamps, careless driving, one headlight, loitering, trespassing, littering, smoking a cigarette, and shoplifting. In fact, many children are actually put in a secure juvenile detention facility after being charged with these small violations and misdemeanors.

But what about the kids charged with serous violent felonies who are being released? Well, they make up less than one percent of this total population. Less. Than. One. Percent. A fraction of a percent, actually. People watching Flack’s report might have assumed that the majority of kids being set free committed 1st Degree, Class A & B violent felonies. That is not even close to being true, but that’s a less scary story, so it apparently didn’t serve Flack’s purpose to fill in that information. And remember, those serious offenders are being set free by the police, not the juvenile court system.

Fourth, let’s look at what the kids who were actually booked into juvenile detention in Louisville were charged with. From their 2012 numbers, over 70 percent of juveniles were charged with low-level offenses: either misdemeanors, class D felonies, or violations. Less than 30 percent of those who were locked up committed crimes serious enough to be class A-C felonies. So not only are very few serious violent offenders being released (by police, not courts), but the large majority of those kept in detention range from simple traffic violations to class D felonies (mostly drugs).

And while we’re at it, why don’t we just link to the actual juvenile justice research that has shown that locking up kids for crimes that aren’t violent or serious is more expensive and less effective in reducing recidivism than treatment and programs. A huge bipartisan majority in Frankfort passed a juvenile justice bill in their General Assembly session this year that states as its goal to lock up less kids for minor crimes and divert them towards treatment and programs. Seriously, this belief is so common sense that even Democrats and Republicans in Frankfort agree on this.

But not Eric Flack, who suggests it is crazy that we don’t want to lock up more kids, and even crazier to want to lock up less of them. Even child victims of human trafficking.

Remember, such a full airing of the facts doesn’t serve Flack’s No. 1 mission: scaring people to get ratings.

2 Comments

  1. Ray Scott
    Posted May 5, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I’ve said for years that Eric is waiting for his job offer from Fox News. He isn’t interested in true journalism– rather the FOX News style of already having the conclusion and to get ratings.

    Back around 2004, he did a sweeps piece on Michael Moore. I guess there weren’t important stories right here to cover. It was three-night series. He traveled to Michigan to bust Moore. It was obvious Eric took issue with Fahrenheit 9/11. He interviewed residence from Flint and selectively interviewed people saying they don’t like him. It was high school type name-calling. He said Moore lied about being from Flint. He took on Moore’s documentary about G.M., saying Moore made up facts about how the G.M closings affected the area and crime. A big part of Eric’s story was featuring people saying they weren’t compensated for being in Moore’s G.M. film, “Roger and Me.” Eric goes to Moore’s house and begins to interrogate a man who was obviously a contractor. That was obvious, because the man came down off a ladder. Eric reported Moore’s staff (the contractor) was protecting Moore, because the man said he didn’t know anything and didn’t know where Moore was.

    I emailed Eric at the time. First, I just did not see the news value in sending a local Louisville reporter to cover such a story, when we have important stories here. I questioned Eric’s claims that there was not a crime issue. “Nightline had a satellite truck stolen, when they did a series of reports there, after the town saw so much decline after the job cuts. I asked whether it was customary for those interviewed in documentaries to be paid. If so, how much? I asked why he inferred the obvious contractor was Moore’s assistant. I asked why he used an interview piece of video from a conservative group with an agenda against Moore, without stating who this group was. Eric made it appear he interviewed this group himself, when it was a video circulated to news outlets to get them to bite. It was a group with the agenda of bashing Moore, due to his 9/11 film.

    There may be errors Moore has made; however, Eric did not report anything of substance to show that. He relied on conservative talking-points. He said the G.M. job losses had little effect. He said Moore lied about the sheriff evicting residence, when that was very true. I wish someone had Eric’s Moore report on video. This aired around February 2004, as the Bush reelection campaign was heating up. It was a FOX News style attack, with no substance. It was a joke. It was as if it was a skit piece on The Daily Show. I still have my emails to Eric and his response. I wish I had that video to watch again.

  2. Adam Frary
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Adding another layer to this debate…the story is not about the majority of cases that play out the right way, it is about that “less than one percent” of the cases in which recidivism seems inevitable. How many percent does it take to make you worry about being robbed, raped, or assaulted? To me, that fact that there are cases liek this one percent that are falling between the cracks in our justice system is reason enough to be concerned, and more than enough reason to ask the question on a local news level. To your point, there is an extreme when laws that are too strict have a devastating effect on crime in communities, as detailed in Malcom Gladwell’s new book “David and Goliath” where the 3 Strikes law had unintended consequences. Crime dropped with more locked up, but more inmates kids grew up fatherless and families were income-less, breeding crime and poverty in the next generation. Also, it sucked up resources for crime prevention programs. BUT there is also a point when the laws are too lenient and can send the wrong message. That is the point of the questions he is asking. Where do we stand. Here are some facts. Draw your conclusions. Recently, a teen murdered his high school crush when she refused his prom invitation. He didn’t process the consequences he was creating for himself and his family, because he probably didn’t have a point of reference from the juvenile justice system. Now he’s being charged as an adult…which is what this story is about. Are their different rules for kids than there are for adults? That is a question that this story creates in my mind. Which, in my opinion, is the point of journalism. The fact that there are a number (whatever that number is) of violent criminals being caught and released without justice is worth a few minutes in a local newscast. All that said, Louisville is unique in having intelligent reporters like Eric Flack and John Boel who genuinely want to create real conversation around real issues. Enjoyed your blog post as a result.

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