Over the past four years, the Sanford, Fl., Police Department has tried to be more transparent, with body cams, public-safety announcements and community events, says Police Chief Cecil Smith. Police have worked at rebuilding community relations since Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting in 2012 and the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the case. In recent weeks, the police department received hateful comments from Idaho, Ohio, Wyoming and other places, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The reason? An incorrect report by WESH-Channel 2 about the police response to a shooting victim. The story received national attention when news organizations picked it up.
“I think the damage has been very profound,” Smith said, adding that the report “taints a lot of the reputation that we had built up in the community.” WESH reported on Latina Herring, 35, who was shot and killed March 27. The station misinterpreted body cam footage of a Sanford police officer talking to a third-party caller on the phone. The station later said, “We incorrectly reported that one of the officers told Herring to stop calling 911 — just hours before she was killed. In fact, that officer was talking to a friend of Herring’s who had been calling 911, fearing she was in danger.” Matt Grant, the WESH reporter who delivered the news story, is no longer at the station. “I sincerely regret my mistake and offered my resignation, which they accepted,” said Grant. Although WESH apologized, the story was picked up by other media outlets and received wide coverage. An incorrect version by The Associated Press can still be found online.