Douglas County DA objects to use of word ‘criminals’ in police department’s social media posts, says people her office charges are innocent until proven guilty

photo by: Contributed Photo

Suzanne Valdez was elected to serve as Douglas County district attorney in November 2020.

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez objected in a news release Wednesday to the use of the word “criminals” in social media posts by the Lawrence Police Department.

Though Valdez did not specify a particular video — using the plural “videos” instead — social media comments accompanying a video Monday of an alleged shooting incident in downtown Lawrence used the word “criminals.” The video, on Facebook and Twitter, showed two teenagers being arrested after one of them allegedly fired a gun at people out of the window of a moving car. The text accompanying the video, which has no audio, reads: “Criminals: Please do not run. Do not drive by an officer while shooting a gun and hanging out the window. We will catch you. We will arrest you.”

Valdez, who said she was concerned about preserving the integrity of ongoing investigations, denounced the use of the word “criminals” to describe the people depicted in police videos. She also said that videos that the police shared are edited and do not always depict the entirety of the incident.

“By law, despite what may be circulating across social media or in the press, the individuals depicted in those recordings remain innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law, not a court of public opinion,” Valdez said in the release.

As the Journal-World reported, Valdez’s office charged the two teenagers in the aforementioned video with aggravated assault. One of the teens was also charged with felony flee and elude.

Valdez said her office has respect for law enforcement, but “the District Attorney’s Office, not law enforcement, decides what charges are appropriate to file under existing Kansas law.”

Laura McCabe, a spokesperson for the Lawrence Police Department, told the Journal-World Wednesday evening that Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart was best suited to address the DA’s press release and that she would request a statement from him Thursday morning.

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