Chris Uggen's Blog: i guess that's why they call it <i>perverted justice</i>

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

i guess that's why they call it perverted justice

as you may have heard, a former texas prosecutor sent sexually suggestive emails to an nbc producer posing as a 13-year-old boy. when local law enforcement sent in a SWAT team, apparently at the behest of the network, the guy killed himself.

few will have sympathy for anyone sending dirty emails to kids (or, to be precise, those posing as kids). that said, i could find no evidence suggesting that the man had ever engaged in any violence against kids or adults. but for the network's intervention, he may never have acted on the impulses that drew him into dateline's spotlight.

via newsday:

A federal judge handed a legal victory Tuesday to a woman who claims "Dateline NBC: To Catch A Predator" led her brother _ a Texas prosecutor _ to kill himself after camera crews and police officers showed up at his home in a sex sting.

In a scathing ruling, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin permitted a $105 million lawsuit to go to trial, saying a jury might conclude the network "crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement."

Louis William Conradt Jr., an assistant prosecutor in suburban Dallas, fatally shot himself after he was accused of engaging in a sexually explicit online chat with an adult posing as a 13-year-old boy, according to a lawsuit filed by his sister.

In his ruling, Chin said the network "placed itself squarely in the middle of a police operation, pushing the police to engage in tactics that were unnecessary and unwise, solely to generate more dramatic footage for a television show."

Chin wrote that a reasonable jury could find there was no legitimate law enforcement need for a heavily armed SWAT team to extract a 56-year-old prosecutor from his home when he was not accused of any violence and was not believed to have a gun.

He said a jury might conclude it was done solely to sensationalize and enhance the entertainment value of the arrest.

"A reasonable jury could find that by doing so, NBC created a substantial risk of suicide or other harm, and that it engaged in conduct so outrageous and extreme that no civilized society should tolerate it," Chin said.

Before issuing his ruling, Chin said he reviewed a copy of the Feb. 20, 2007, episode. In her lawsuit, Patricia Conradt claims a police officer at the scene of the shooting told a "Dateline" producer: "That'll make good TV."


At 9:11 AM, Blogger Woz said...

You know, I've only seen one episode of Predator, and ironically, it was this one. I remember watching slack-jawed as they explained that the guy inside the house had killed himself, but they still felt it was ok to air that episode. I'm not much of one to decry today's morals, but come on...dude killed himself.

Also, what's never discussed on the show is how creepy it is that a roomfull of middle-aged men are online pretending to be 13 year old girls to get into sexually explicit conversations. Doesn't this seem nearly as creepy as the guys getting online to chat with those "underage" children?

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Corey said...

Perverted justice engages in entrapment, pure and simple. I expect that from moral crusaders who, deluded as they may be, believe themselves to be protecting the innocent from pure evil.

I expect a lot more from law enforcement. Has anyone offered a legally plausible explanation for the planned forced entry and the use of SWAT? On what grounds was that legal under the 4th amendment?

In balance, I believe the show to catch a predator does more harm than good. It reinforces public perceptions that this kind of crime is rampant which in turn leads to counter-productive public policies. My students never believe me when I tell them that child sexual victimization constitutes less than 10% of reported child abuse and that the trend is declining rather than accelerating. The response: "yeah, but on To Catch a Predator..."

Who needs incidence studies when you have Chris Hansen?

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Amy said...

Hold on one minute here. Dude doesn't off himself because SWAT shows up at his door. Dude offs himself because he is mentally unstable. I think this show is reprehensible, but this man's death is not the fault of the media. (Disclaimer: I am a reporter)

At 6:14 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

woz, corey, and amy, we're in agreeance, as dennis green would say.

amy, i'm less concerned about dateline's creepy practices than with how they (appear to have) manipulated the law enforcement response in this case. we expect tv producers to try to set up spectacles that make for good tv, but good officers won't tolerate any encroachment on their professional practices.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Charlieblue said...

Beg to differ here. Chris Hansen didn't create this sort of media/police cooperation and exploitation. America's Most Wanted, Cops and their imitators have been playing this game for decades. How many police chases and violent resisters were caught on film, allowed to happen, for the cause of "good television". C'mon. Hansen has taken advantage of the modern bugaboo, the fear of perverts on the internet. I'd be surprised if Conradt is the first to kill himself in this scenario. Gotta wonder what NBC execs were thinking though... legal settlement cost effective after ratings boost?


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