We Have the Facts and...?
Last week, I reported the facts: Popular KEXP late-night DJ Matthew Garman, AKA Matt Nichols, was arrested for domestic violence. His girlfriend told police that Nichols beat her up and yanked the phone away from her when she initially tried to call 911. Nichols spent two days in jail. The city is pursuing domestic-violence charges and property damage charges.The police report cites nearly $500 in damage, including a broken window and smashed flowerpot. I interviewed Nichols, and quoted him saying the police got some details wrong and there was "far more to it than what's in that report." (Nichols is awaiting a pre-trial hearing.)
Readers denounced the story: "You are a horrible inhuman lowlife"; "The fact that you write an article that could basically ruin Matt's career is disgusting"; "This is not news... [it's] intrusive and deplorable"; "Surely Mr. Feit [is] not naive enough to believe airing dirty laundry is going to inspire people in our community... to 'make a difference'"; "Matt is one of the nicest people you will ever meet."
Thanks to this kind of circle-the-wagons mentality, which encourages silence, domestic violence arrests--which dominate police reports--generally remain invisible until it's too late. For example, I only had a domestic-violence report. The dailies and TV news had a bigger story last week: a domestic-violence murder. Wielding a gun as he drove on the back roads east of Tacoma, 24-year-old Genaro Remigio Garcia poured gasoline on the passengers--his estranged girlfriend and her three children--torching them and himself with a lighter.
"The woman's relatives indicated there had been 'some unreported domestic violence' before she filed an assault complaint," the Seattle Times reported, adding: "'All the signs were there that this could and would happen--definitely,' said Elizabeth Gay, domestic-violence program manager for King County. 'He was getting scary and he didn't have fear of getting in trouble.'"
Domestic violence is doubly cloaked because it remains uniquely associated with stereotypes of the underclass--the sort of people who hardly seem relevant to Stranger readers, alternative urbanites who listen to cool music. For this reason, Nichols' arrest was a reality check for readers.
Finally, would these same readers complain if I found a police report about right-wing talk-jock John Carlson? I bet not. I also bet that in the Carlson hypothetical, Carlson's friends--like Nichols' friends--would denounce me as a "lowlife." And that's the real point. Most of last week's letters came from people who said they were Nichols' friends. But if The Stranger is going to be credible, it can't protect its own--namely DJs from indie rock stations that are entwined with the progressive community.
One fact I didn't report last week: The city attorney's office interviewed Nichols' girlfriend. Unlike the police report, that interview is sealed. My guess is that if it's used in court, the seriousness of this issue will become clearer.