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baker-videoWednesday’s release of a 1 3/4-hour video of last Friday’s DWI arrest of former Senator Gilbert Baker is disturbing on many levels.

9/27/16 Baker
♦   Pleaded guilty to a negotiated plea of guilty DWI (1st offense) and refusing to submit to an alcohol test; driving left of center was dropped.
♦   Received a sentence of 48 hours in jail on the DWI, got credit for 24 hours served on the arrest night, and has 30 days to complete the jail sentence.
♦   Was fined $225 for refusing the alcohol test and posted a $1,395 bond for release — but forfeits the bond as a fine on the DWI charge minus $170 for the driving left of center charge that wasn’t prosecuted.
♦   Had a blood alcohol level of .149, and an unquantified amount of methamphetamine in his blood (per police reports).

9/2/16 4:30 pm When you ask questions, you sometimes get answers. We’re informed the video was obtained by KARK Channel 4 under a Freedom of Information request.

9/1/16 8:30 pm Originally posted on 08/31/16 at 8:30 pm, the video on the KARK Channel 4 Arkansas Matters website has now been removed, with no explanation for the deletion.

We’ve added remarks, in RED below, to our original post.]

Sure, the video shows a former Arkansas Republican senator in dire circumstances that look very bad for his future (and this former senator is the same one who’s heavily embroiled in the biggest local judicial bribery case in the past several years). We’re not defending the man, who has obvious personal problems that need to be addressed with his pastor and his physician.

We’re defending our justice system — and the police, who are responsible for administering at least the first step in that justice system. We can’t remember any time in the last twenty years or so when an arrest video involving a public figure was publicly released in this way.

Taken inside the Conway Police Department, the video seems to be a surveillance tape of the evening’s activities there.

Who released it to the media? KARK Channel 4 apparently obtained the video via a FOI request to Conway PD. If it was released by the CPD, we’d like to understand the rationale behind that.

What overwhelming public interest would be served here? It’s not like someone has been killed in a police shootout and we can see a bodycam video to try to sort out the events that occurred. Surely a DWI arrest doesn’t need that kind of pre-trial public scrutiny — or is it being treated differently because it involves Baker?

If the video was not formally released by Conway PD, then we have a much bigger problem: Who released it, and how did that happen? Why was it released to the media? These questions, as well the original questions below, are now squarely directed at KARK Channel 4, with the same implications as our original post.

What about the American concept of “innocent until proven guilty”? The knee-jerk reaction is unavoidable: from the video it seems obvious (to this untrained observer) that Baker is in trouble. But, until the charges are proven it is irresponsible (at best) to release this video. We are not defending Baker, but are instead defending everyone’s right to this basic concept of our system of law.

If we cannot count on the justice system treating Baker equally and fairly, like any other citizen, isn’t that an indictment of how we run our American system of laws, checks, and balances? If we can’t defend Baker’s rights in this situation, how can we ever hope to continue administering a fair and balanced judicial system that treats all citizens equally?

Releasing this video served no one’s best interests. Certainly not those of Baker; it absolutely throws over the public’s trust in a fair and equitable justice system in exchange for satisfying the urge to wallow in someone’s distress by piling on when they’re clearly already in huge trouble.

It doesn’t reflect well on Conway PD, either. If the video was released on purpose, we are more than disappointed in the Conway PD. Obviously, Conway PD had no choice but to release the video in response to such a FOI request.

We know, and totally support, way too many police officers. Releasing this video can be seen as a slur against their impartiality — which we in the public must depend upon for fair administration of the law. If it was not formally released, then we question the Department’s security. Again, no security issues if Conway PD released the video in response to such a FOI request.

We ask again KARK Channel 4, what’s happened here? How does releasing this video serve anyone’s best interests?