Is this what we have been waiting for?
When Jordan Green asked me if he could have some time off in February to head down to Mexico and work on a pet project of his — what passes for a vacation for Jordan Green — I had no problem with it. Little did I know at the time that Green’s jaunt to Oaxaca would coincide with the biggest trial in Greensboro since YES! Weekly’s inception, the culmination of a police scandal that rocked the city, a story that’s been developing in turns since January 2006, when former Greensboro Police Chief David Wray resigned amid allegations of racial profiling against officers in his department.
The story provided fodder for every newspaper in town — true-crime writer Jerry Bledsoe has managed to squeeze 70 installments out of it for his series in the Rhino Times — and provided countless blog threads, not to mention heavy grist for the Greensboro rumor mill. I suppose I had more than a passing knowledge of the case, having edited all of Green’s work on the story and contributed a couple editorial stances — you might remember that in March 2007 we argued that Randall Brady should not be denied his benefits of 30 years on the job even after the series of serious allegations that led to his retirement. But as far as YES! Weekly was concerned, this was Jordan Green’s story — until last week, when I found myself in the Melvin Municipal Building with a notebook tucked under my arm to cover the People vs. Scott Sanders The result is this week’s cover story, beginning on page 15. It is the longest single-installment article we have ever run in this paper, and also the longest piece I’ve ever written for publication. Initially this was to be an 1,800-word trial story, with a few highlights and turning points to flesh out the body of the piece. But after a couple days in the courtroom I had an epiphany: This is it. This is the only criminal trial that will ever result from the madness that caused so much turmoil in our police department. This is all we’re gonna get, folks. And I realized that there would be some people out there who would be interested in reading in-depth coverage. Details, people! I’m talking about details! There was the indictment, yes, and the verdict. But whole lot happened in between points A and B, and I knew there would be some out there who would be interested in seeing how the jury reached their verdict. For the first time, a lot of information was available in one place. The relative merits of each piece of evidence was stress-tested by cross-examination and re-direct. And there was the natural drama of a courtroom trial. It was really something: emotional supporters in the courtroom, well-argued positions by two excellent lawyers, a jury on the verge of being hung. And if you knew some of the backstory it was even more entertaining. I was riveted when defense attorney Seth Cohen crossexamined Greensboro police officer Julius Fulmore. It was Fulmore’s laptop that Sanders had broken into, and Fulmore is suing the Rhino Times, its editor and publisher, John and Willie Hammer, along with Bledsoe in connection with his series. Their lawyer is… Seth Cohen. Oh, there were ironies all over the place in this one, friends. One thing that struck me after three days of testimony concerned the nature of police work itself: It’s nasty business. There are very few Joe Fridays out there, and the cops that are making busts, running investigations and fighting crime do things that, out of context, might seem unethical, or even illegal — things like consorting with addicts and prostitutes, like Julius Fulmore, who says they are among his sources on the street; like secretly taping telephone conversations, as did Scott Sanders, who did it in the course of investigations and later, it seems, to cover his own ass; or like SBI Agent James Bowman, who hit the trifecta by enticing the teenage daughter of a jailed con artist to lie to Fulmore during a taped phone conversation. Makes journalism seem downright respectable. As for any meaning about the larger police controversy that can be gleaned from the trial… well, it doesn’t work that way. This trial was about exactly one issue: whether Scott Sanders was allowed to examine Julius Fulmore’s laptop or not. I puzzled over that one myself for a couple days: Well, whose laptop was it? I mean, Fulmore used it, but was it his? Does that make it his personal computer? And then I was like: Who cares? Is this what we’ve been waiting for all these years? Is this why we’re all sitting here? For a controversy that started out with such promise, it really ended with a whimper.