Friday, October 15, 2010
The Price of Enlightenment
This week's cover story in the City Paper is a must-read for anyone interested in how vicious predators can continue to prey on citizens even though they've been caught. Written by Hal Riedl, a frequent commentator on this blog, it details the journey of a sexual predator and murderer through a criminal justice system that just doesn't get it.
I first met Riedl in 1998 after I had filed to run against the "Nine Trusted Judges" of Baltimore's Circuit Court who were standing for election. Riedl called me, introduced himself, and explained that he worked for the Department of Public Safety, from which vantage point he could see how judges were sentencing criminals. As we talked, it became eerily clear that his top three "least-trusted' judges were the same top three on my list, though our reasons and perspectives were different.
Riedl tried to help my underdog, unsuccessful campaign as judicial candidate, just as he worked hard for state's attorney candidate Gregg Bernstein. He puts his money where his mouth is.
And on his own professional front, he constantly advocated for more appropriate handling of violent criminals. He saw not only what judges did with sentences and probation violations, but how hearing officers handled prison violations and parole commissioners parole and revocation hearings. He understood the significance of criminal backgrounds when others didn't or didn't care.
He became a gadfly to his employers. And this year, before writing his article Freeing Willie, Riedl was fired.
The excuse? He had sent an e-mail to Peter Hermann of the Sun regarding a prisoner that corrections officials mistakenly released after he impersonated another inmate. It hit the media last winter, and Riedl provided some factual details to Hermann about the release along with his interpretation of those facts, namely, that they "point glaringly to our stupidity in DOC" and that the release was due to "gross monumental incompetence."
Hermann, this year's "Best Journalist'" (along with Justin Fenton) in the City Paper's Best of Baltimore edition, then inquired about it with Public Safety officials with enough lack of delicacy that they instantly delved into Riedl's e-mail and fingered him.
And despite Riedl's clear First Amendment rights to speak on an issue of public importance, Secretary Gary Maynard fired Riedl. First Amendment rights apply only to those who can pay a lawyer to protect them.
Some will now perceive Riedl as a 'disgruntled' employee, even though Maynard was the disgruntled one. And others will view him with suspicion because he spoke out, because he didn't protect his own interests first like most of the rest of us do.
But Riedl is the kind of guy the public needs to shed light on how their government operates. And even though Maynard took away Riedl's livelihood, he did the rest of us a favor.
Because Riedl can now speak freely. And now we know about Willie Featherstone, and our monumentally incompetent system.