Monday we reported on what we originally called a Boynton Police Psycho Alert. The story led to some interesting conversations and surprising new information.
The original bulletin, below, discussed a potential threat involving Thomas Francis Carney III, son of former Delray Beach mayor Thomas Francis Carney, Jr.
The big news we add now came from a tip about a lawsuit filed by Carney and his parents against his former high school, Cardinal Newman in West Palm Beach, and a fellow student, for libel and slander. The tip came from MyActsOfSedition.com.
The lawsuit describes two or more incidents in 2009 and 2010 where Carney was allegedly accused of threatening to make a bomb and/or bring a gun to school. The fellow student is accused of spreading rumors about Carney. Below are some images from one of the key documents in the case. First, the alleged bomb threat:
Next the alleged gun threat:
That April 2010 incident caught some media attention, including this Sun-Sentinel article.
The full document is at bottom of this article.
We reached out to the elder Mr. Carney and their attorney, as well as the defense attorneys in the civil case, but have not received any responses. Our source says the father put this statement out on Facebook, though we can’t verify it:
My son Thomas Francis Carney III is an aspiring filmmaker who was working on a project that was designed to be a fictional work and was never intended to be viewed by the general public. In particular, I have reviewed the video which pointed out the perceived security issues at a hospital. It was an “expose” along the same lines as one he saw on TV about 3 months ago. There was never ANY threat made to anyone or anything throughout this video.
Despite what was asserted, my son fully cooperated with the police. The Boynton Beach police officer decided to file his report without speaking to my son, asserting that my son was advised to not answer questions. That is factually incorrect and misleading. We had only sought a brief delay until our family attorney could be present. This certainly could have dispelled any concerns then and there.
The other videos were part of the background to his film project. They were fictional. They were not supposed to be public. All of them were done with a specific dramatic effect in mind. Looked at in a vacuum with no history or explanation, it would be easy to come to a very wrong conclusion.
I and all of the members of my family give great importance to safety and security, and the hard work the police departments do to ensure everyone’s safety. As his father, my role was to ensure that my son had an attorney present during questioning. At no time were any requests made for any special accommodations.
My son is embarrassed because he thought the videos were restricted as part of his project. He is very contrite as to all the stress this caused to his family and the community. There was never any intention to cause any concerns about safety
Considering the history described in their lawsuit, the “film project” story doesn’t seem persuasive.
This leads to another angle on the story – the police response. They did not like us running this story, and they expressed two concerns. First, they asked us to take the article down because it was “creating unreasonable fear.”
I discussed that with their spokeswoman, Stephanie Slater. I explained that the fear seemed reasonable – that this incident seems a lot like the Elliot Rodger incident in Santa Barbara where police investigated him, did nothing, and he went on to shoot around twenty people, killing six of them. The FBI has been notified? That didn’t protect Boston from the Tsarnaev bombers. Ms. Slater had no answer.
The second concern: Ms. Slater seemed angry that we didn’t check our story with her before publishing it. Here’s her quote from a New Times article:
On Sept. 1, 2014, westbocanews.com incorrectly reported a story about the Boynton Beach Police Department posting a situational awareness bulletin in area hospitals. This LAW ENFORCEMENT — USE bulletin was emailed to other law enforcement personnel only. It was not posted by Boynton Beach police in ANY hospital. The purpose of the bulletin was to inform law enforcement of information that we were gathering in the early stages of an investigation. That information has now been turned over to the FBI. In the future, should you see a law enforcement bulletin such as this one, we urge you to contact us and understand all of the facts and reasoning behind the document BEFORE reporting about it.
She told me that traditional media know to check stories like this with her first. Maybe they do, and maybe we should have. However, it is common for traditional media (and us) to report on arrest stories without talking to the defendant first. I asked Ms. Slater, a former Palm Beach Post reporter, if she thought that was unbalanced. She said she didn’t understand the question.
There have been incidents where we’ve reached out to government agencies for comment. In some cases they’re responsive and helpful. In others they are difficult and waiting for their response can delay a story. For this follow-up I asked Ms. Slater where they got the photo of Mr. Carney. Was it a mugshot from a sealed or expunged case? If so did the police violate his rights by using it? Was it a driver license photo? Ms. Slater said she would get back to me on that detail, but has not.
We felt this story was of a potentially urgent nature and did not think our readers should have to wait for a government response. We did follow up with the police later and edited the original story based on what they said.
While there were minor details that we fixed, we did not incorrectly report the story. We had the key points right. It was important to get this story out so our readers would be aware of what seemed (and still seems) like a dangerous situation.
The Carney v. Cardinal Newman lawsuit is below: