Charleston, SC — The big news out of West Virginia over the weekend is obviously the chemical spill that left nearly 300,000 people without water. But in the city of Morgantown, in the north-central part of the state near West Virginia University, a three-paragraph news item in the local paper, The Dominion Post, has caused a bit of a stir.
On Saturday, Jan. 11, the paper published this item under the headline “Sheriff’s department looking for suspect”:
The Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department is asking for help identifying a man involved in some suspicious activity.
The person is described as a black man.
If anyone has information he or she is asked to contact Deputy J.D. Morgan at 304-291-7260.
On Sunday, John Cole at the blog Balloon Juice posted a photo of the item along with some sarcastic commentary:
ATTN: EVERY BLACK MAN IN MORGANTOWN! Don’t be suspicious, because we are onto your shit.
Cole’s blog post didn’t cite a date for the paper or link to an online version of the brief, so at first I thought the whole thing might be a hoax. Or perhaps something that appeared in the paper decades ago. No one at the paper responded to calls or emails Sunday, so I called a Morgantown gas station that sells The Dominion Post and asked a young-sounding clerk if he might have a copy of yesterday’s edition lying around. He did, and he turned to page A2 and read the item aloud to me. (I’m not going to repeat the word the young man used to describe his assessment of the news item, but it was a derogatory term for someone with an intellectual disability.)
Later Sunday afternoon I got in touch with Deputy Morgan at the sheriff’s office. Unlike the gas station clerk, he was not so amused.
“You have no idea,” he told me. “I’ve been taking flak over that for two days now.”
The deputy says he stopped by the newspaper and dropped off a short news release with two photographs days ago. He says the person in the photos—a black man—isn’t a suspect in any case, but is someone authorities want to talk to about some credit card transactions. The department was hoping anyone with information about the man would call.
The sheriff’s department has been hearing from area residents since the item appeared in the paper, though not with the response they’d hoped for.
“It’s been constant day and night since yesterday morning,” Morgan said. People have come in to complain. Oh, and the phone calls.
“Usually it’s just sarcasm from people,” the deputy said. “‘Hey, I’ve seen a black guy walking and he looks suspicious, I hear you’re looking for him.’”
It got bad enough, Morgan said, that he went over to The Dominion Post and asked if the paper could issue some kind of clarification. Late Saturday, the Post published on its website this item, which includes the photos, a more detailed description of the man, and a mention of stolen credit cards.
That’s probably what Morgan was expecting to see in the first place—though the deputy says he was hoping the update would offer a little more clarity about how the original item had made it into print.
We’ve reached out to the The Dominion Post again this morning and will update this story with comment from the paper when we get it.
UPDATE, 1/13/14, 1:30pm: While the paper still hasn’t returned our calls, the following has been posted at the bottom (comments section) of Saturday’s online piece:
Due to a copy editor’s error, an item was published in The Dominion Post on Saturday without a full description of a suspect sought by the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department in connection with stolen credit cards. The corrected item with the full description ran in the Sunday edition of The Dominion Post and was published on TheDPost.com late Saturday with three photographs. 1/13/2014 11:11:00 AM