I Cried in the Bathroom Stall Today

I’m frustrated, angry and so close to blowing up that it isn’t even funny.

I live in the State of Florida which means I have to deal with heat, humidity, hurricanes, tourist, snowbirds and the list goes on and on. This great state, however, has its advantages too.

Florida Sunshine Law is amazing. Public record is open, its available and it’s the law… on most days.

There was a murder, which always makes the Sheriff’s Office a little more cautious when dealing with the media. Then there were two separate counties involved, one more rural than the other extremely rural, “small town-ish” county.

Which in summary means, I had a lot going against me when my editor put me on my mission of getting information, any information.

Now the fact that I wanted to just get something should sound easy enough – that’s what I thought.

Here was my plan:

Step 1: Call the Sheriff’s Office

Step 2: Get the arrest report

Step 3: Write an 8 inch story and be done

… I wish.

After two hours, over a dozen calls and several chats with my editor I got in touch with the one man that every other person said I needed to talk to.

Side note, I’m persistent. I may not be the most eloquent writer and I may not be able to smooth talk or bully my way into getting what I need, but dag-nab-it, I’m persistent.

So I finally got in touch with Capt. Harry Hamilton, how small town does that sound?

Then he went in circles, evading my questions and refusing to give me any documentation on the man wanted for murder, but being held in his jail on dealing in stolen goods.

After explaining law, that it was public record and that he could even redact the witness names that he was incredibly concerned about he still refused. Then when I flat-out said I want this and you have to give it to me I was told I would have to fill out a public records request form.

How absurd.

I have never filled out a public records request. I deal with three counties, multiple Sheriff’s Offices and police departments, on a daily basis. Can you feel my frustration?

I went on to explain this and he went on to say I would need to request it formerly.

Then I called the local (there’s where the problem lies) State Attorney’s Office. I got so far as saying my name and where I work then that devil of a secretary was a brick wall.

When she told me before I even got a question in that I would not be able to know anything my anger and annoying persistent personality kicked into high gear.

“Well, I’d like to ask you just one question before you tell me no if that’s alright.”

Then when I was done she said no, to be expected – fine, whatever.

“Can I please be connected to a voice mail or talk with another supervisor for comment?”

“Ma’am, you are being very persistent,” devil woman replied. “No one is going to give you a comment like I’ve already told you.”

“I realize that – it’s my job to be persistent and talk even if I have to write the State’s Attorneys Office could not give a comment,” I said.

“Well you cannot speak to them and they won’t be giving a comment,” she haughtily said. “And I think you need to stop asking questions…”

The rest was rude words and I interrupted, said thank you I’ll call again tomorrow and hung up as she started telling me not to even try.

Please understand, I’m tired and being denied for three hours straight is incredibly exhausting.

When that last call was complete and I realized all my work was completely useless the tears began to well up. What a baby.

I left my desk, went into a bathroom stall and wiped my pathetic tears away.

Then, back in the newsroom, proceeded to write my public record: Try and deny me, I dare you.

Three hours later, I got a fax with all the records I requested.

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2 responses to “I Cried in the Bathroom Stall Today

  1. I’m not making fun of you by any means, but welcome to the world of small-town politics. I actually had a small-county undersheriff get in my face to where I feared he was going to hit me, and this guy was MUCH larger than me. Fortunately for me, the sheriff walked up at that time, which caused him to back off a bit. Part of me kind of wanted the guy to hit me so I could later own him and the county he worked for.
    Do you have a state newspaper agency that your newspaper is a member of? Here in California we have, and if you’re a member you can contact (with your editor’s permission of course) the organization’s legal counsel for advice.
    In the process of gathering my information, those who stonewalled me would eventually live to regret it because I’d make sure that it was my feet they felt as I went over their head to get the information I wanted.
    People who worked with me tended not to suffer embarrassment later on, compared to those who stonewalled me. I can’t say I was not vindictive, but an old Mark Twain quote always rang in my head at that point: “Never argue with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.”
    It’s not easy but if you go out of your way to be as fair as possible my experience is people will eventually recognize it and back off.
    Meanwhile, you might want to talk to your editor for some advice on this and future such issues that could come up. Be honest with him/her and let them know how you feel about being stonewalled by state agencies. If you have a good editor it’ll make your life much easier as you continue to deal with folks like this.

  2. Pingback: Oh, The Days of Our Lives | Angelmcc’s Weblog

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