Columns » Max Brantley

Rumor control

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We get tips. For example, a recent caller said:
The weekend of July 1-2, one of some 13,000 teens in town for a regional soccer tournament was raped at her Little Rock motel. As the caller told it, the city went into damage control. It provided plane tickets to the girl’s family, a new room in the Peabody Hotel and a news blackout.
Our search for facts had an inauspicious start. Terry Hastings, the normally cooperative police information officer, said he couldn’t release the report. I said I thought incident reports were public record. I asked him to take the request up the ladder and also called City Manager Bruce Moore.
Not long after, the report was sent along. And here’s the rest of the story.
The 14-year-old girl from North Carolina was staying at the Holiday Inn Express near the airport. She said she was walking downstairs the morning of Sunday, July 2, when a man in his 40s dragged her into a room and raped her. He then let her go and drove away in a black car.
The patrol officer who responded reported that the room in which the assault took place was used by a crew working on hotel remodeling, but the crew boss said none of the workers were using the room that weekend.
City Manager Moore was notified by the police. He called the acting mayor, Barbara Graves, who promptly headed downtown to meet with the girl and her family. Dan O’Byrne, director of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, also was notified.
The family was moved from the scene of the attack to the Peabody Hotel (and perhaps 20 other soccer visitors were moved to new lodging). O’Byrne said the Peabody comped the rooms for the victim’s family. The Convention and Visitors Bureau bought plane tickets for the father, mother and daughter to fly home the next day. “It was the right thing to do,” said O’Byrne. “We reacted as we would for any group in town. Our responsibility is to our visitors and guests.”
Our tipster seemed critical of two things — the lack of publicity and the city’s expenditures on behalf of the victim. The city has many crime victims, he said. They are often featured prominently on the nightly news, but receive no form of compensation.
Moore responded, “I thought it was very important that the city show compassion to the family and the victim and to let them know police were investigating this as they would any other alleged rape.” He insisted that no effort was made to keep the event secret, except to protect the victim’s identity. (It was redacted from the police report, as the law provides.)
Moore said that the city is concerned about all crime victims and demonstrated this when it took over paying two employees to run a victims’ assistance program in the police department.
“Nobody was under any orders to hold back or not report something,” Moore said. “If we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the side of being compassionate and pro-active with a family. And they appreciated it.”
So there, tipster, is the city’s side of the story you heard. Plus this: Police spokesman Hastings told us Monday that police so far “have not found evidence the incident occurred the way it was reported.” Further interviews with the victim may be necessary.

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