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About Face

The capture of Ricky Eugene Bailey just before midnight on Friday, November 5, was good news for the Denver Police Department. After all, Bailey, 46, is suspected of committing over twenty robberies since early October, and because he sports a memorable nickname -- the "Raspy Robber," in acknowledgement of his abrasive voice -- the local press has been closely tracking the case. But in the view of Detective Virginia Lopez, a DPD spokeswoman, some of the coverage following the bust left a lot to be desired.

"It was not only disappointing but completely frustrating," Lopez says. "I feel that the competitive nature of the media overruled the rights of the victims, and it should not be that way."

The Bailey matter presented cops with a conundrum. While they wanted journalists to report that he was off the streets, they still had to conduct lineups with witnesses of crimes that took place in multiple jurisdictions -- and they feared that the wide circulation of photos or video spotlighting Bailey might bring the objectivity of those who identified him into question. So shortly before noon on Saturday, November 6, during the DPD's first public statement about the bust, Lopez specifically asked media organizations not to use images of Bailey until further notice. In a subsequent e-mail that restated this entreaty, Lopez emphasized that widely circulating such shots "would certainly jeopardize the integrity of the investigation."

Mere hours later, Lopez learned that a photo of Bailey was prominently displayed in the Denver Post's bulldog edition -- a version of the Sunday paper made available in assorted locations a day early. According to Post managing editor Gary Clark, corresponding via e-mail, the photo was published prior to Lopez's request, but she's not certain about the timing. In any event, Lopez phoned the Post to complain at around 2:45 p.m. and was connected with a supervisor whose name she doesn't recall. She describes his response as "less than cooperative. He was of the opinion that they were a competitive organization, and he saw no reason why they should withhold it."

True to form, the Post put a big pic of Bailey in its Sunday issue, too. This made sense to Clark, because one had already turned up in the bulldog. Besides, he writes, "The capture was made after a lengthy and very public standoff with police. The police also released his name Saturday -- and we felt both story and photo had high news interest to readers of our Sunday paper." Clark also points out that "the police, during the course of their investigation, had asked the media to publish surveillance photos of a suspect taken during some of the robberies."

Clark's right about that, Lopez concedes, but she believes shots taken by professional photographers can't be equated with the snippets from surveillance videos previously made available to the media. The majority of the pre-arrest images "were from just below the eyes on down, because he always covered his face," she allows. "And the one photo where you could see more was blurred to the point where you couldn't really see the guy that well."

In contrast, the likeness of Bailey in the November 7 Post was crisp and sharp. Lopez says that as soon as she got an eyeful of it, "I called all the other media outlets and reiterated, 'Please, please, please don't run it. Let's not compound the situation. Let's remember there's still an ongoing investigation. I'll let you know when you can use it.' They were all, 'Sure, sure, sure' -- but the next thing I knew, we got a phone call telling us it was on Channel 31."

Bill Dallman, Channel 31's news director, confirms that his station screened unaltered footage of Bailey from a November 7 court appearance in its 5 p.m. newscast. But unlike the folks at the Post, Channel 31 personnel reconsidered their decision after hearing from a peeved Lopez. "We reread her press release, and upon further review, we decided that if it was important, we would do what they wanted," Dallman says. Subsequent newscasts on Channel 31 masked Bailey behind a so-called mosaic effect of floating boxes that obscure specific facial characteristics.

Other local broadcasters went down the same road. For example, Channel 9 departed from the approach taken by the Post, its print partner, by giving Bailey the mosaic treatment during its 10 p.m. report; anchor Ward Lucas stated on the air that this was done at the behest of the police department. For Channel 9 news director Patti Dennis, the move "wasn't complicated. They indicated they needed to use him in photo lineups for a number of unsolved crimes. We felt the public's need to know right away was less than law enforcement needing to find out if there were other unsolved crimes he might be related to."

With the TV stations falling into line, Lopez hoped Bailey's visage would remain out of sight a few days longer -- but she had one more unpleasant surprise to come. The Rocky Mountain News, which doesn't have a Sunday edition because of its joint operating agreement with the Post, accompanied its Monday, November 8, account of the suspect's bond hearing with a photo from court.

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