September 28, 2010

Did I ever tell you how I almost got locked up?

Twenty years ago in a little Upstate New York city called Auburn, most famous for its massive maximum security prison, I came within a whisker of getting packed off to jail for refusing to obey a court order to hand over a leaked hospital lab slip.
The tiny piece of green and white paper, which had been sent to me, showed that an off-duty state trooper had a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit when he smashed his Corvette into a guardrail late one night.
He was never charged in the crash, which nearly killed him.
I wrote a story about the cover-up, relying on that little slip of paper to prove the trooper had done wrong (and so, too, had the police and emergency personnel who helped hide the fact that he'd been drinking).
It created a stir, as you might expect.
The trooper was livid so he sued - but not me, since he had no case. Instead, he sued the hospital that had saved his life, for failing to protect his medical privacy.
The key to his case was that little slip of paper. Without it, he couldn't prove they'd failed to keep it secure.
I refused to hand it over, worried that it might be possible to trace my source if his lawyers got their hands on it.
One day in court, when the county sheriff showed up with a new uniform and gleaming handcuffs attached to his belt, I realized the judge had reached the breaking point. He planned to put me behind bars for contempt because I wouldn't bend.
Even then, with the TV cameras rolling, I refused to go along with the order.
But I did tell the judge that I had "new evidence" that I could only disclose in chambers. He bought it.
I didn't really have any new evidence. I made up some nonsense about the way the paper had been folded perhaps showcasing a source for it.
The judge took the opportunity to delay the case and then to knock heads in private to get it settled. The hospital finally apologized and that was that. It was over.
But I got a dose of what this job can require.
I've been grateful that for the past 20 years, there's never been a story that threatened to put me in jail. I can live without that happening again since it is sort of scary to contemplate.
I do want people to know, though, that I'll go all the way to protect a source.
So if there's ever another drunken trooper....
*****
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

18 comments:

brian kirk said...

thank you

Chele76 said...

thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

ananomouse said Steve b4 you go to jail - make sure you know if you want to be the husband or the wife! It is best not to teeeee off doctors or judges, they can put you away for a long time............

C. Sciria said...

I can remember like it was yesterday, sitting in the court room, hearing you tell the judge you would not give up that lab slip.
I'm glad you still remember.

Anonymous said...

Talk about missed opportuniies---

Anonymous said...

So what you're saying, Steve, is that you perjured yourself. What nice ethics you have.

Steve Collins said...

8:05 -- No, that's not perjury. It was a new issue, legitimately. Was it something that would sway the case? Probably not.
I understand that the judge had the impression I wanted to turn the case into a circus and to go to jail. I really had no interest in that.
Once he realized that, he worked things out behind the scenes, as judges sometimes can. I appreciated that effort.
And, Chris, it is one of those things you never forget! (And check your FB messages.)

Steve Collins said...

8:05 -- I should make it clear that I never lied. I told the judge my theory about the way the paper was folded. He thought enough of it to say he'd consider it. That it was a real long shot was obvious to both of us.

Anonymous said...

Go Steve! So few people have the chutzpa to stand up for what is right....They manipulate their beliefs/actions to provide themselves with a false security blanket and the belief that what they do or have done is for the best, be it lying/cheating/not getting involved/sacrificing friends or family or manipulating the true, etc. So many people today are plainly chicken. What happened to a country of people where we once stood up for what was morally right? People make a million dollars on reality shows twisting/manipulating/lying and using others for a buck. It's sad.

Anonymous said...

So Steve,

What your saying is if any of us know about any officer who was drunk and got into an accident we should bring it to you and you'll keep us out of the story?!

Steve Collins said...

9 am -- Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Sreve,Your a stand up guy.

Anonymous said...

20 years is a long time between honorable situations . Afraid to try it again ??? Now maybe people will understand why it is soooo important to keep anonymous sources concealed in this blog .

Jackie Majerus said...

To 12:24...
Steve does his job with honor and decency every day.
Further, he attaches his name to every story and blog post.
He protects sources and always has. Just because he hasn't faced jail for taking a position of integrity for 20 years doesn't mean he hasn't done anything honorable in the interim.
There are some other reporters who conduct themselves in the same honorable way but have never faced jail.
Steve wasn't looking to be locked up, but he was willing to be because he gave his word to that source that he wouldn't give up the lab slip.
I know. I was there.

Anonymous said...

Where you fishing for information with this post? It seems odd that this would run the very day the story of the Bristol officer being found to be drunk behind the wheel came out? Do you think there has been a cover up or was an investigation going on behind the scenes?

Steve Collins said...

7:21 - I suppose it could be an odd coincidence. Then again, perhaps it helped spur some folks to tell me the story.

Anonymous said...

Plain as day you lied, plain as day you pick and choose responses. I think I might send a copy of this thread to the judge you admit you lied to.

beau mader said...

You're a gutsy, honorable guy Steve.I'm sure many family members who are aware of your stand will agree.
Beau