Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega Takes New Times to Journalism School

In March, we published a feature about the Miami Beach Police Department, detailing how more than 50 percent of the force earns at least six figures a year and profiling the myriad legal problems involving Beach cops. (You can read it here.)

We've also reported extensively about former Officer Adam Tavss, who was wrapped up in two questionable fatal shootings in four days last summer.

Tavss resigned in November after failing a drug test. Then, last month, he was arrested after cops found a marijuana grow lab with 47 plants in the former cop's basement.

It seems MBPD Chief Carlos Noriega has some problems with our reporting.

In a letter sent to editor Chuck Strouse, he cites the American Society of Newspaper Editors "Canons of Journalism" and claims New Times' coverage has been "inaccurate" and includes "misinformation."

We don't agree with Noriega; we stand by the stories, and no corrections are forthcoming. Indeed, Noriega's complaints don't add up to much in the way of substance. We gave the chief a chance to comment about both stories before they were published, and he declined.

But we're good sports, so click through to read his full letter and judge for yourself.

Dear Chuck Strouse --

As you know, in 1923 the American Society of Newspaper Editors adopted the "Canons of Journalism." While these are vocabulary principles, newspapers throughout our country have followed these ethical guidelines in an effort to ensure that the freedom of the press which is guaranteed constitutionally is not abused or misused.

For those of us that have lived in the area, the Miami New Times has been a local presence for many years, providing our community with alternative options for receiving news. The newspaper has a long history of investigative reporting, and has always used an interesting (although perhaps sometimes controversial) voice in presenting the information.

However, I find it necessary to write to you today in reference to the recent blog "Adam Tavss, Miami Beach's 'Killer Cop' Arrested With Hydroponic Marijuana Grow Lab in House" by writer Tim Elrink, posted on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. This and previous stories by Mr. Elfrink on the matter contain inaccurate and unconfirmed information presented as fact. The continued misrepresentation of information gives the impression that the reporter is distorting facts to achieve a particular agenda and/or substantiate a specific basis.

To be more specific, the following is a sampling of inaccurate information as it was presented in the most recent blog:

• "...under investigation for gunning down two men in four days last summer..."
Fact: Former Officer Tavss was one of these department employees who discharged their weapons in one of the shootings referenced. None of the three open investigations have yet to determine, nor has any information ever been released, about who fired the final shot in that second case. The writer's statements present as a fact that Former Officer Tavss was responsible personally for both deaths.

• "Tavss and the police claimed that Shehada and his brother...were armed..."
Fact: As has been widely reported, and substantiated in 911 recordings that were released to the media, officers were responding to a flurry of emergency calls that claimed two armed men were walking down a public sidewalk. More importantly, however, if in fact Former Officer Tavss provided a statement in the open investigation to the investigating bodies, that information has not been released publicly. As the reporter does not reference any confidential source confirming such a statement, the reporter's assertion of such a statement is, at best, speculation or, worse case fiction presented as fact.

• Tavss blasted to death Lawrence McCoy Jr....Tavss again claimed he was armed..."
Fact: The statement further reinerates the prior two points: not only does this assert, as fact, that Tavss was singularly responsible for the second fatal shooting (a fact that has not been concluded by the current investigation, and has certainly not been reported), but again also asserts that Tavss provided statements on the shooting. The reporter also fails to put this shooting into the context of the incident, as has been substantiated in highly publicized witness accounts that record 911 calls: that the officers were responding to a carjacking where the battered victim stated a gun was used; the information was disseminated to all responding officers.

• "...Tavss had been accused in 2007 by another officer of snorting cocaine...Still, he stayed on desk duty until resigning in November."
Fact: Although the alleged ingestion of cocaine occurred during December 2007, the police department was not made aware of the incident until July 16, 2008. An Internal Affairs investigation was immediately initiated, and Former Officer Tavss was drug tested on July 19, 2008. The results showed no narcotics in his system, and thus the investigation was closed as unsubstantiated as the investigation could not prove or disprove the allegation. Clearly Former Officer Tavss was not on desk duty until resigning, as the incident in the article occurred during his patrol duties.

Similar examples can be found in prior stories. For instance, another Tim Elfrink piece, "Miami Beach cops are paid up to $225K and face lawsuits galore," published on Thursday, March 25, 2010, was littered with assertions and less than accurate information. In the article, Mr. Elfrink reported that former Officer Richard Anastasi (recently arrested), had resigned from MBPD. Yet he never bothered to mention that Anastasi, as was Tavss, were being processed for termination when they submitted their respective letters of resignations.

A reporter is certainly entitled to take some journalistic license in presenting the facts. While the use of terms such as "gunning down" and "blasting to death" are more atypical of traditional tabloid press, tenets (4) and (5) of the Canons of Journalism speak to "Sincerity, Truth, Accuracy" and "Impartiality." Even opinion columnists endeavor to be accurate and verify facts.

It is certainly our expectation that Miami New Times will continue to cover these and other stories of interest to your readers. But, just like your readers, I believe there is an inherent expectation that reporters will use due diligence when gathering the related facts, and make legitimate attempts to pen articles that are both fair and balanced. It is my hope in bringing this to your attention that you will ensure that your newspaper's credibility is not brought into question as the result of misinformation that is being reported.

Carlos Noriega
Chief of Police, MBPD

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