News outlets are often accused of instigating the court of public opinion into convicting someone before all the facts are out or they’ve had their day in court. This newspaper is no different. From time to time we’ll hear from unhappy suspects who didn’t like seeing their name in black and white type. Phrases like “accused of” and “allegedly” are meaningless, we’re told, because once it’s in print it’s taken as gospel.
In the case of Sgt. Mike Murphy, a veteran police officer now facing felony charges lodged by the federal government, the Review has gone at least to the same lengths in reporting this story that are taken in reporting the weekly roundup of arrests from police reports. Arguably, we’ve been more responsible in laying out the facts of Murphy’s case because there have been numerous follow up stories. If the charges are dropped, it will be reported. The same can’t be said for those named every week in the police log.
For Commissioner Mark Hosty to declare Murphy’s innocence is premature and reckless for the same reasons that the public is critical of a hasty crucifixion. In discussing a fundraising event he staged to pay for Murphy’s high-powered attorney, Hosty said his longtime friend has been “falsely accused.” Hosty may one day be proven right, but he can’t yet possibly know that.
As a friend, it’s admirable that his support of Murphy is steadfast. But as an elected official trusted to watch out for the community’s best interests, Hosty is stepping into a mine field that should cripple the public’s trust in him. Hosty’s responsibilities as a commissioner bar him from soliciting financial support for a suspected felon whose troubles may grip village hall. Whether that’s stated in the council’s code of ethics is irrelevant.
Voters should be left gasping that other members of the village council even considered contributing to Murphy’s legal defense. The scenarios in which Forest Park might be dragged into this case are too numerous to list and it’s impossible to know whether Murphy’s legal interests will square with the village’s. The long, strange trip through the mud that has been the most notable aspect of Forest Park’s cop shop in recent years ought to make any elected official cautious in declaring their allegiances. Without knowing how this case will shake out, Hosty and other council members could very well be funding their own hanging. And their hanging, more importantly, would cost taxpayers a great deal of money.
That anyone would want to rush to the aide of a childhood friend is entirely understandable, and we don’t mean to fault Hosty for his loyalty. But holding public office comes with its own set of obligations and residents should remind Hosty, and everyone else on the village council, not to forget those promises either.