Tuesday, January 15, 2013

'No Good Deed Goes Unpunished' - A News Story Deconstructed

I wanted to run "WE WERE DUPED" jam capped in a 72-point headline.

Because Charlie Boothe has made me angry.

Not only because he lied to us for his own pathetic gain, but because he put me, and all my co-workers, in danger. When he gets out of jail, he'll probably do it again somewhere else.

And I'm angry that I felt BAD for calling the police on this pathetic excuse for an individual, hoping he'd get to sleep off his stinking, ranting, threatening drunk in the Jacksonville jail, and if he was really lucky, get a psych eval and a three-day stay in Behavioral Health in Tyler. The JPD explained that because he was not a danger to himself, he didn't qualify for a psych eval, but he'd be released from jail the next morning, when he was sober.

BUT THEN they found out about his violent past. And arrests for violent crimes in at least six other states.

We did our due diligence with the story. Newspapers don't typically run background checks on everyone they write about. He was known to the local Marine Corps League Det. 1381 (who were trying to help him get housing at the local Travis Towers). The certification papers for his dog were legitimate. There was no way of knowing that they didn't actually belong to this dog and the papers were stolen. And sometimes,  you just WANT TO TAKE PEOPLE AT THEIR WORD. We get lambasted regularly for running what the public perceives as "negative" news, so when a feel-good story comes along, we tend to jump on it. Not all of us are cynical and jaded, although I feel that way today (the Lance Armstrong confession isn't helping my cynicism).

I didn't write the follow up article, after Mr. Boothe's arrest. At that point, I was PART of the story, and as I'm sure you can tell from above, not fair and impartial in the least.

You see, because when he came back to our offices Friday, he only wanted to talk to me. I was called back from lunch out with a friend and I NEVER, EVER leave for lunch (so it was a special treat). And I sat out in front of the building (after he'd been kicked out of the lobby for vulgar and abusive language) listening to his lies, which included being sent to Vietnam when he was 14 years old. "I was a baby killing babies," he said, with tears streaming down his face. He said he was a platoon mate of guitarist Carlos Santana (turns out he may or may not have a second dog named Carlos Santana). He said his job in the military was highly classified. He said he had previously threatened to blow up the White House, which is why the CIA had been looking for him. Then he started talking about his love of the AK-47. This is when I texted the co-worker to call the police. But the whole time, we all felt bad for this man, who clearly, lies or not, has emotional and mental problems. We felt bad his dog was taken away again. We felt bad that somehow, somewhere, a system has let him down.

But he lied. He had a calculated plan to extract money and sympathy from the community.

And THAT makes me angry.

'Missing dog' story turns out to be hoax



What started out as a "feel-good" story about a homeless man who lost, then recovered, his service dog with the help of Jacksonville's good Samaritans last week has turned out to be a  hoax.

Charles Lee Boothe, 54, is described by Jacksonville police as a "drifter-grifter" with multiple violence-related convictions in seven states.

Authorities believe he lied to a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter, claiming he had lost what he claimed was a “service animal.” By getting the reporter to write about the alleged incident, Boothe was hoping to receive resources and money from sympathetic area residents, police believe.

But something was very wrong with Boothe on Friday. He showed up at the offices of the newspaper, drunk and muttering conspiracy theories along with angry expletives. In the process, he troubled nearly every member of the newspaper staff.

"If he hadn't come back into our offices in the throes of a meltdown, we might not have ever known that something was wrong, very wrong, with his version of events," Editor Amy Brocato Pearson said. "I feel bad for all the people who tried to help him."

After the staff tried to talk to Boothe several times, Pearson determined that police should be called.

After Boothe was arrested on a charge of public intoxication, officers searched his belongings and found a stolen birth certificate – the theft of which is punishable as a state jail felony – and also determined paperwork Boothe showed the reporter when claiming his black-mouth cur Fuzzy as a service dog was legitimate, but actually belonged to someone else.

Police have taken Fuzzy to the city pound, where authorities will determine to whom he will be released.

Also, Jacksonville Daily Progress officials have filed a charge of criminal trespassing, a Class B Misdemeanor, against Boothe.

"It appears he is going to be in jail for awhile,"  Jacksonville Police Sgt. Jason Price said.

During the newspaper visit that led to his incarceration, Boothe disclosed that a reporter with a Tyler newspaper had upset him. But Sgt. Price said it's a fair bet Booth actually was angry because he knew he was attracting too much attention to his scam. During his ill-fated visit, Boothe claimed that the CIA could now pinpoint his location because of details disclosed in news articles, and that he was a target of the CIA because he had previously threatened to blow up the White House.

While interviewing with the Progress, Boothe claimed he was a veteran of the United States Marines – going so far as to allege he lied his way into the service at age 14. However, a Social Security number check by the Marine Corps League Det. 1381 could not locate a service record for Boothe whatsoever.

Following is the sequence of events:

• Boothe approached the paper about the allegedly missing animal on Monday;

• The first story ran on Tuesday.

• Fuzzy was found Tuesday afternoon.

• The second story ran on Wednesday.

• The final, ill-fated, visit to the newspaper took place Friday.

What is bothersome to Pearson is how many good-hearted members of the community became involved in this search. During the search for Fuzzy, the Daily Progress received numerous phone calls with Fuzzy sightings Tuesday morning. One resident apparently found Fuzzy and brought her to the Klein Animal Shelter. Another woman, who was physically unable to assist in the search, offered funding to put up 'lost dog' flyers in the area. When she learned Fuzzy was returned to Boothe, she said she would just buy dog food and drop it off near the location where Booth was living. Even on the day Fuzzy was returned, a customer who had stopped by the Jacksonville Daily Progress offices during Boothe's and Fuzzy's visit handed him a folded $20 bill.

"God bless," Boothe told her.

The "missing dog" scam is one Boothe had tried at least once before. According to information recovered by Jacksonville Police, Boothe circulated "lost dog" flyers in Palestine as well as penning a letter to the editor of the Palestine Herald Press.

In the flyers, Boothe referred to a missing service animal who answered only to "Lil Brother" or "Hey Stupid."

"Please return him," Boothe wrote in the Palestine newspaper. "I just want my baby back."

That was the exact same phrase he used with the Jacksonville paper.

The details were slightly different from the Jacksonville case, but for the most part it was the same basic scam, police believe.

Officers initially had just planned to take Boothe into custody overnight because he was drunk, but that changed after they discovered the stolen birth certificate,

Officers looked into his background and discovered his extensive criminal record, which ranges from aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Texas; to disorderly conduct in Florida; robbery and burglary out of California; and further charges in New Hampshire, Georgia, and Tennessee.

He had been living behind a local florist shop near Highway 79. In addition to Fuzzy, he also cared for a small black dog. That other dog's status was not immediately available Monday.

Ultimately, when Boothe gets out of jail, authorities hope he drifts on to another area.

Editor Pearson said she refuses to allow this incident to blind her to the mission of the newspaper.

"They say 'no good deed goes unpunished' and this could very well fall under that category," Pearson said. "However, just because Mr. Boothe fooled us into believing his trumped-up tale doesn't mean we still won't rally behind residents of Cherokee County who have a compelling story or who need the community's help in the future.

"As a newspaper, we did our due diligence in confirming as much of Mr. Boothe's story as we were able to at the time."

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