The St. Louis Post-Dispatch shared video of a police officer’s death before his next of kin could be notified. When people started sharing outrage over the decision, the newspaper responded with old allegations against the officer that had been dropped and looked to be thoroughly debunked.
According to LEO Affairs, North County Police Cooperative Officer Michael Langsdorf, a 17-year veteran of law enforcement, was killed Sunday afternoon in a food market in Wellston, Missouri, adjacent to St. Louis.
He had been responding to a call that someone at a food mart was trying to cash a bad check. Upon arrival, he was involved in an altercation with the suspect, Bonette Kymbrelle Meeks.
“He was wrestling with the man, and the man just turned around and shot him,” Kashina Harper said. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
According to The Associated Press, Harper uploaded a video of the incident to social media, which is when things began to go awry.
“A store clerk at Clay’s Wellston Food Market Restaurant recorded the aftermath of the fatal shooting in which an armed suspect struggled with Officer Langsdorf,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “The clerk called police for help and posted that video of the graphic shooting aftermath to Facebook Live.
“The Post-Dispatch had multiple reporters and photographers covering the shooting Sunday in Wellston. An editor, not a reporter, briefly posted a link to the Facebook Live video in an online story on STLtoday.com, then deleted it a short time later. The clerk later deleted the Facebook Live video.”
“The online link to the video should not have been shared on STLtoday.com,” the paper said in an apology.
That’s kind of not really the whole story. First, the video had been posted before next-of-kin could even be notified. Second, after the complaints started accumulating, LEO Affairs reported, someone from the Post-Dispatch decided it would be a good idea to share an old case of alleged overtime theft from 2017 in which Langsdorf had been involved.
The problem is that the case had been dropped and Langsdorf had a reasonably good explanation for what had happened.
“Interestingly enough, the overtime theft was a lawfully-ordered affair, as Langsdorf and the two other officers worked for a drug task force and had been told to submit ambiguous time sheets to keep their assignment covert,” LEO Affairs reported.
So, what say you, St. Louis Post-Dispatch?
“The Post-Dispatch embraces ethical standards set by the Society of Professional Journalists, which include to ‘minimize harm’ and ‘show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.’ Linking to that Facebook Live video violated those standards,” Tuesday’s apology read.
“The Post-Dispatch newsroom demands its journalists follow high ethical standards. Although done without malice, this judgment error failed to meet our ethical standards.
“The Post-Dispatch editors are reviewing and re-emphasizing ethical standards that we must use when linking and sharing online content.
“The slaying of Officer Langsdorf was a terrible tragedy. The Post-Dispatch regrets and apologizes for causing pain to the Langsdorf family and law enforcement officers.”
That said, the dropped charges against Langsdorf still appear as the final two paragraphs in the Post-Dispatch’s current version of the story.
“Langsdorf was one of four officers charged in 2017 with falsifying time sheets and getting paid for overtime they did not work. At the time, three of the officers, including Langsdorf, lived on the same street in Arnold,” the story read as of Tuesday afternoon.
“The charges were dropped last year after a judge denied a city prosecutor’s request for more time to gather evidence. The officers worked for a drug task force and had been told to submit ambiguous time sheets to keep their assignment covert.”
Still, the great outrage here isn’t those two paragraphs, but the fact that an editor decided to publish a Facebook Live video of an officer’s dying moments and then had his newspaper handle it in such an appallingly tone-deaf manner.
This is a 40-year-old father of two who was allegedly killed in a senseless incident. For anyone working for a newspaper — and in this case, an editor — to post a video of Langsdorf’s dying moments is beyond insensitive. To simply move along as if nothing had happened while bringing up old charges against him is uncalled for.
In the years to come, Officer Langsdorf’s memory will hopefully be kept alive in a much better manner than the Post-Dispatch treated it in the hours after his life was snuffed out. His death may have been the greatest tragedy to occur this Sunday, but the paper’s callous handling of it represented another — much more avoidable — one.
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