Friday, March 14, 2008

Identifying men arrested for alleged lewd acts in Atascadero park bathroom

Q. Why didn’t you print the names of the three men arrested at Atascadero Lake Park last week on suspicion of lewd acts?
-- Several readers

A. The three men were all suspected of misdemeanor crimes, and The Tribune generally does not report the names of those arrested who face misdemeanor charges. If we do, we’re obligated out of fairness to follow that person’s case through the courts and report the outcome, particularly if the person is found not guilty.
“The Tribune’s staff time is limited, though,” said Matt Lazier, our local news editor. “There are many more misdemeanor crimes than there are more severe felonies. So when we do cover a misdemeanor case, most of the time we do not name the person arrested.”
There are exceptions, however -- for instance, if a prominent local resident is accused of a misdemeanor. A good example is a case July 18, 2007, when the Sheriff’s Department arrested three men on suspicion of lewd acts after a sting near Pirate’s Cove nude beach.
The Tribune first reported the arrests July 20 without the names of the three men arrested. However, our staff learned that morning that one of the men arrested was Geronimo Enrique Cuevas, who was a priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Nipomo.
“Because of Cuevas’ standing in the community and the trust inherently placed in priests,” Lazier said, “we felt we needed to print his name.” Cuevas’ case is still making its way through San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. He has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of committing a lewd act in public, soliciting a lewd act in public and sexual battery.
We followed this same reasoning today in identifying one of the men, Larry Arnold Starling, because he works as the concessions manager at the Mid-State Fair. He holds one of the key jobs at the fair, which is one of the county's major events of the year.
_ Sandra Duerr

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