BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — We received a tearful letter this week from a young woman who was arrested by the Boca Raton Police Department last year for Battery. She begged us to remove the article about her arrest, saying that she was finding it impossible to find work with her mugshot, and story, online.
We researched the case and learned not only did the State Attorney’s Office decline to prosecute the 21-year-old, but a judge ordered her record expunged. We removed the article, her photograph, and only wish we had known about the expungement sooner.
She was defending herself against an abusive boyfriend when she was taken into custody.
We are under no obligation to remove the story. The information is public record. We did it because it’s the right thing to do.
In Boca Raton and throughout Florida, “Battery” is all too often a fallback charge. Police officers have little leeway. State statute requires — 99.9% of the time — for someone to be arrested if officers are called to a domestic disturbance. Police aren’t being mean or vindictive, they are merely doing what they are sworn to do. Uphold the law.
But for the unsuspecting college student, battered spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend who happens to fight back and ends up getting hauled off to jail because someone else’s bruises are bigger, a simple act of “I’ve had enough” routinely ends up in a reputation ending experience.
Mugshots in Florida are public record. Police are required to release arrest information upon request. And in a world of media cutbacks, that’s often all the information that is reported. The Internet becomes the judge and jury, with reporters rarely following up to learn of a case disposition in court.
Slimy mugshot websites now proliferate, automatically republishing feeds of mugshots within minutes of a photo being taken in a county jail, then charging hundreds of dollars to have the mugshot removed. It’s a giant game of whack-a-mole. A mugshot is removed from one website, only to appear on another.
At BocaNewsNow.com, we are instituting a new policy. Unless there is a compelling reason to do so, we will no longer report domestic abuse arrests — especially for arrestees under 25. There are exceptions: public figures, arrestees who hold positions where they are licensed by the State of Florida or another governing body, or arrestees who have been charged more than once. When we do report battery arrests, we will remove the story — and image — upon notification that the charges have been dropped, case has been dismissed, or arrest record has been expunged.
We call on other media to follow our lead. The Sun Sentinel this week reported on a young woman charged with battery for defending herself in a pillow fight. Funny? Somewhat. Unnecessary ruining of her reputation? Yes.
No media organization is going to be sued for running a legitimate story about an arrest. It is public record. But in our Internet age, every story is a global story. Information isn’t limited to one newspaper in one county. What is published on BocaNewsNow.com is indexed by Google moments later and visible worldwide within seconds. That is why we are going to do the right thing.
We hope others will as well.