A word choice that somehow spelled 'trouble'

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

A recent move unearthed all sorts of interesting items, including a treasure trove of photos from when my hair (or what’s left of it) was a decidedly different color than the various shades of gray that it is now.
The move also brought to light a real-life police story from yesteryear, when I labored in the ever-changing environs of the weekly newspaper business with my longtime colleague Brian Cox, the current editor of The Detroit Legal News.

In 2002, Brian was a relatively new addition to the weekly newspaper staff that I managed, although he had quickly proved his worth as a talented and prolific writer. As such, he was assigned to various city beats, including the critically important police blotter where all forms of lawless behavior played out for our readers to digest.

In October of that year, Brian earned a back-page byline summarizing the police news for the week, highlighted by his detailed coverage of a teen-age tryst that took place under the cover of darkness in a local park. His four-column story would soon become the talk of the small town and rightly so, we were about to discover.

To set the stage for the unfolding story, Brian opened with the sentence “On a routine ‘proactive’ patrol of Curtiss Park the evening of Oct. 11,” a police officer “came upon a parked vehicle in a rear lot.”

Nothing too noteworthy there it would seem, but suddenly there was more.

“Upon approaching the car and shining his flashlight in the window, the officer observed a naked boy in the front seat and a naked girl in the back. He also saw a case of beer in the front.”

The combination of unclothed teens and unbridled alcohol consumption would soon prove deadly in a vaudevillian sort of way, Brian reported.

“The startled male youth threw his car in reverse and attempted to flee, nearly hitting the patrol car, according to the officer’s report,” Brian wrote.

“Driving erratically and with the officer in controlled pursuit with lights flashing, the youth apparently attempted to exit the park, driving over grass and through a newly constructed playground area covered with woodchips.

“The vehicle finally came to a stop near the exit, and the officer conducted a ‘high risk stop,’ demanding the youth get out of the car with his hands raised, and get on the ground. The officer then handcuffed the subject, who had been able to get a shirt on but was still without pants.”

Both occupants of the vehicle, Brian noted, were then transported to the local police station where their parents were notified of the multiple misdeeds.

“The male youth was charged with fleeing and eluding, open intoxicants, and minor in possession of alcohol,” Brian reported. “The girl was issued a citation for minor in possession of alcohol. The case was turned over to juvenile prosecutors and both teens were released to their parents.”

But then there was this addendum.

“In a related story, earlier that same day another two . . . students, albeit fully dressed, were arrested and ticketed for possession of alcohol as they left the Middle School parking lot,” Brian indicated in his police beat summary.

The word “albeit” was a conjunction seldom used in our newspaper jargon, but it was a nice turn of a phrase by our ace police reporter, I thought at the time.

By the next afternoon, when the respective mothers of the two teens involved in the late-night romantic escapade made their way into my upstairs newspaper office, I began to think differently about the word choice.

Both mothers, one of whom was unabashedly nursing a newborn throughout the discussion, were equally incensed over our coverage of the incident, basically saying that we had subjected their teens to unwanted attention and widespread ridicule across the community. This, despite the fact that neither one of the two teens were named in the article due to privacy restraints involving juveniles.

In effect, one of the moms said in anguish, “You have ruined our kids’ lives” by thoughtless and heartless reporting of a matter she believed was published solely to “sell newspapers” and to “titillate readers.”

That, of course, was another interesting turn of a phrase, given what the two newspapermen in the room were unable to avoid witnessing during the butt-kicking session.

And then, with her voice reaching another octave level, she demanded we explain the use of “albeit,” a word she believed had particularly sinister connotations given the totality of the unfortunate set of circumstances.

For that explanation, I left it to Brian, since he was architect of that word construction.

His somewhat tongue-in-cheek reply, meant to lend a bit of humor to a discussion that was starting to wander into veiled threats of legal action, failed to pacify the aggrieved audience, leaving me to assure them that such a “cruel” and “unusual” word would never grace a printed page again.

Until now.



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