On the “Garfield and Friends” cartoon series, there was a segment called “If You Saw It on Television, You Know It Must be True!” It poked fun at how people believed what they saw on television, no matter how outlandish.
There seems to be a latter-day version of this on the Internet. It could be called, “If You Saw It on Social Media, You Know It Must be True!”
You are, no doubt, aware of an investigation of allegations of embezzlement at Parker Town Hall. This past week, two search warrants were served in that investigation. One was at Town Hall, and the other at the home of Town Manager Lori Wedemeyer. So far, the agency handling the investigation, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office, and the Arizona Auditor General’s Office have not released any details on the investigation, citing a need to protect the integrity of the investigation.
However, that hasn’t stopped the rumor-mongers and gossipers on local social media. Even with little or no actual information, they claim to already know what happened and who the guilty parties are. Many of them already have Wedemeyer as evil incarnate, and she’s been charged, tried, convicted and hanged. Some seem to want to promote Council Member Randy Hartless to sainthood.
Everyone needs to be reminded that no information from the investigation has been released yet, other than that an investigation is taking place. We don’t know the status of the investigation or what that investigation is finding or will find. Anything more about this case that anyone says is just speculation.
Does it look bad? Of course it does. Whenever you have an employee accused of embezzlement, a search warrant served at Town Hall, or a search warrant served at the Town Manager’s home, it looks bad. It should look bad. However, it doesn’t prove anything when something looks bad. The fact is, we don’t know the whole story.
Does anyone remember the McMartin Preschool case? The McMartin family ran a highly-regarded and well-respected preschool in Manhattan Beach, Calif. In 1983, a parent made an allegation of physical and sexual abuse of her son by staff at the school. An investigation was launched and arrests were made in 1984.
For weeks, the local and national media ran sensational stories about hundreds of cases of alleged sexual and physical abuse at the school. There were allegations of Satan worship, children being abused in underground chambers, and animal sacrifice. The nation was horrified and fascinated. The McMartin family and their staff were reviled and vilified in the media. They were described as the worst sort of abusers of children.
Guess what? None of the allegations were true. The investigators used leading questions and coercive methods to get the young children to describe horrific acts of abuse that never happened. As a result, many of their stories contradicted each other. There was little or no physical evidence to back up any of the sensational allegations. As an example, consider the claims of underground chambers. The site was excavated, but no chambers were found.
In 1986, the new Los Angeles County District Attorney, Ira Reiner, described the case as “incredibly weak” and ordered many of the charges dismissed.
For the charges that went to trial, there were no convictions. The case lasted seven years and cost $15 million, and there were no convictions.
The McMartin family and their staff were cleared of all charges. However, the public had already judged them guilty due to the sensational media coverage. Their business was destroyed, and their lives and reputations were in ruins.
As for the parent who made the initial allegations, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and died from chronic alcohol abuse in 1986.
In the case at Town Hall, we need to let the investigators do their jobs and avoid rumor-mongering, gossip and speculation. We don’t know anything for sure yet. Let’s see what their report says before we jump to conclusions. If criminal activity is found, let the chips fall where they may.
A good rule to follow in this is to be patient and wait to see how everything turns out. Remember: if you saw it on social media, that doesn’t mean it’s true.