[What follows is the unedited email freelance reporter Peter Lance sent to Independent editors asking the paper to retract certain sections of Nick Welsh’s June 30 Angry Poodle Barbecue column.]
Marianne and Randy,
As you recall, I left similar messages on your voice mail last week after having read Nick Welsh’s “Angry Poodle Barbecue” column in the June 30th issue which was largely devoted to an attack on the five-part series I wrote on DUI officer Kasi Beutel in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
While Mr. Welsh is a columnist and enjoys a broad First Amendment latitude, there were at least three allegations or statements in the column that crossed the line from fair comment to defamatory libel. Even if I was construed as a “public figure” under the doctrine enunciated in New York Times vs. Sullivan, it’s clear that in these comments Mr. Welsh showed a “reckless disregard for the truth,” or “malice” and I would have an actionable libel claim against the Independent if I decide to pursue litigation. With this email I’ll detail the three defamatory allegations and request that Mr. Welsh print a retraction and apology in the upcoming issue.
DEFAMATION NUMBER ONE:
“My main concern is that on New Year’s Day Officer Beutel popped Lance for a DUI, after he appeared to have fallen asleep behind the wheel at a downtown stoplight.”
This allegation as to my condition and the suggestion that that I fell asleep, prior to the DUI arrest is not only false and defamatory, but Mr. Welsh lacks a shred of evidence to establish such a claim. His entire basis for this conclusion appears to be the press-release from the SBPD issued on 6.23.11, just two days into my five-part series. The release, sent from Lt. Donald. Paul McCaffrey, whom I quoted in several places in the series, was riddled with factual errors. Apart from the fact that the release was a republication of a series of false statements by Officer Kasi Beutel — the critical object of my series, it identified my vehicle four (4) times as a “Range Rover,” a mistaker made in Beutel’s arrest narrative, when in fact, I drive a 2006 LR-3.
The release falsely stated that “One officer described Lance as looking down at his lap; the other described him as head drooping, chin nearly to his chest.” The two officers who purportedly pulled me over — were identified in the police report as Bruno Peterson and Heather Clark.
Only Beutel and Peterson filed arrest narratives in my police report and in Peterson’s he said that I was “looking down at” (my) lap.” There is NO REPORT from Clark, the “other officer” whom the SBPD release falsely claimed described me as “head drooping, chin nearly at (my) chest.”
Kasi Beutel, by her own admission, under oath at a DMV administrating hearing conducted in Ventura on Thursday, June 30th, 2011 admitted that she herself, had not witnessed the stop. But that did not keep her in her arrest narrative from lying and alleging that I was “almost passed out behind the wheel.”
The essence of my series on Beutel was the evidence I developed about how often she had lied in police reports of her DUI arrestees. Thus, for Welsh to accept the account of the SBPD which was apparently based on her hearsay account of my stop was the height of irresponsibility. As to Beutel, this is what she finally admitted Thursday in a DMV hearing when she was under oath and questioned by my lawyer Darryl Genis:
DG: Did you see Mr. Lance’s driving that led to the stop?
KB: No. I did not conduct the traffic stop.
Not having conducted the stop and only arriving several minutes after Peterson pulled me over, Beutel couldn’t possibly have offered an eyewitness account of the stop — but that didn’t stop her from misquoting Peterson & Clark.
Officer Peterson, who did pull me over, was more candid: In an earlier DMV hearing conducted on June 24th, testifying under oath, Peterson had this exchange with Mr. Genis on my condition when he rolled up next to me.
DG: You’re not suggesting that he was asleep at a green light?
Yet Nick Welsh, working off of a Police Department press release riddled with factual errors reported that I “appeared to have fallen asleep behind the wheel.”
What makes that conclusion, particularly troublesome is that Welsh acknowledged in his piece that my purported Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was 0.09 as cited by Officer Beutel using the easily manipulated Alcotest 7410 Plus breathalyzer.
It defies belief that a man of my height and weight: 5.11 and 180 could be so hammered at that BAC to have fallen asleep. But for reasons articulated below, it was clear that Nick Welsh was bent on crafting a piece of “vendetta journalism” and he was determined not to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
DEFAMATION NUMBER TWO:
“The News-Press should be praised for investigating how DUIs are enforced. It’s a big story. But why hire someone accused of drunk driving to do it?” In the case of this false and defamatory remark, Welsh felt compelled to highlight it in bold.
The later defamatory statement in which Welsh equates a charge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) at .01 over the legal limit of .08 suggests that driving DUI is the same as driving “drunk.” And that is not only untrue as a matter of law, at the level I’m accused of driving at it’s untrue as a matter of fact.
The definition of driving under the influence is, “if, as a result of consuming alcoholic beverages you become impaired to such an appreciable degree that you no longer have the ability to drive with the caution of a sober person under the same or similar circumstances, then you are under the influence of alcohol for purposes of driving.” That definition comes from CALJIC 16.831 which defines “under the influence.”
The term “drunk driving,” denotes a person who gets behind the wheel and is so inebriated as to be a danger to himself and the general public. But Welsh, tars me with the same brush, without drawing any distinction, particularly, once again, in light of my alleged BAC of .09.
Further Welsh, who purports to have read my series, had to know what I reported, citing the sworn testimony of a Dept. of Justice Criminalist on how easily the Alcotest 7410 Plus can be manipulated by an officer like Beutel, by blocking the exit port and thus boosting a BAC of .04 to a .09. In the introduction to the series I even reported on how I’d seen Beutel do that very thing in my case, but Nick decided to take her word over mine.
In short, he ignored the findings of my investigative series, bought the Police Departments account of my stop and arrest, wholesale and ignored the evidence I presented about how an officer like Beutel who was willing to commit perjury in state and federal court proceedings has effectively framed innocent drivers by rigging the breath tests.
DEFAMATION NUMBER THREE:
“Making matters more troubling is how utterly one-sided the series was. If the cops had any answers or explanations for what Lance has alleged, they’re nowhere to be found.”
What’s frankly shocking about that assertion is that not only are there multiple sections in the series when I quote Lt. McCaffrey, and even Kasi Beutel herself, but Welsh emailed me on June 27th, two (2) nights before his diatribe ran and he asked me that very question. I responded with the emails below in which I demonstrated to him how often the SBPD POV was in the series and, more importantly I copied him on the very emails I had sent to Kasi Beutel — one of which contained a list of 27 questions detailing every single major allegation in the series and giving her a chance to respond as early as May 27th and as late as June 6th, more than two weeks prior to the start of the series.
I also sent Welsh as copy of my email traffic to and from Lt. McCaffrey. In his latest email to me on June 2nd, after I’d requested specific information about Officer Beutel, McCaffrey told me he’d referred the matter to the City Attorney’s office and I never heard back from either of them.
For Nick Welsh to KNOW the extent to which I sought to get the input of Kasi Beutel and the SBPD and to KNOW the extent to which I quoted both in the series and then GO AHEAD AND PUBLISH that third libel is the essence of MALICE — reckless disregard for the truth. NICK’S APPARENT MOTIVE I suspect what caused this animus toward me by Welsh was the fact that after he’d spurned my earnest efforts to set the record straight on the night of June 27th, I called him a “hack.”
Welsh know the quality of the work I do. In fact, not only do I have an email in which he offered to run the first two parts of the investigative series I reported last December on Ensemble and Unity Shoppe, but I informed him on April 12th that Officer Kasi Beutel was, a person of interest worthy of investigating.
At that point Nick, purportedly a competitive journalist, might have asked himself, “what is Lance doing on this cop?” and thus brought the forces of The Independent to bear on a probe that might have reached many of the same conclusions I did. But he didn’t do that and thus, beaten to the journalistic punch, rather than take it like a man, he used his bully pulpit to eviscerate me, focusing almost entirely on the issue of MY MOTIVE, without fully considering the depth and significance of my reporting.
What Nick should have done, rather than secreting the bile he lathered me with in his column, was to act like a reporter again instead of a “hack” columnist and start kicking over rocks to confirm my findings. I would invite that kind of inquiry and, as I continue to report the story for the News-Press I welcome The Indy to work it as well.
But for now, I request that The Independent publish a retraction and an apology. Such a gesture would impact my decision on whether or not to file a defamation summons and complaint.
I have been in touch with the First Amendment attorney in L.A. who got me a $125,000 settlement against my old network ABC in 2005 and I am weighing my options and remedies.
Please get back to me or have your errors and omissions attorney contact me.