On Wednesday, May 8, King County Sheriff's Media Relations Officer Sgt. Greg Dymerski issued a press release praising Trevor. Sergeant Dymerski's press release had its intended effect: The mainstream media had a field day ["Dope," Dan Savage, May 16]. "Teen blows whistle on father's drug dealing," read the May 9 Seattle Post-Intelligencer headline. "A teen weary of his father's drug dealing out of their Covington house called [the police], who arrested the man late Tuesday," wrote P-I reporter Hector Castro. "Once deputies searched [the house], police found between 30 and 40 marijuana plants."
Wait a minute: The King County Sheriff's Office and dog Thunder found 14 pot plants in Palmer's house. But the P-I reported that the police found up to three times that many--enough pot plants to conclude that Palmer was dealing drugs, not just growing marijuana for personal use, as he would claim after his arrest. So where did the damning 30-40 figure come from?
"That's a good question," Sgt. Dymerski told me when I called to ask where the media got the 30-40 figure. "I really don't know."
It came from a different May 7 report: the incident report filed by King County Deputy Jesse F. Herrera, which was based on Trevor Palmer's account and not the cops' search. So, while the media was busily portraying Aaron Palmer as a drug lord based on the number of plants Trevor said were in the house, the King County Sheriff's Office knew the number was false.
The P-I fell for Herrera's report. On May 9, the P-I called Aaron Palmer a drug dealer and reported that Palmer was selling drugs out of his home. "We relied on info from the police, as we always do when we write about crime matters," says the P-I's Assistant Metro Editor Kathy George.
However, George wasn't relying on info from the police--the cops found 14 plants, not the inflated number the P-I previously reported. She was relying on what Trevor told the police.
Rather than clearing up the error in a July 8 interview with Trevor, the P-I simply allowed him to justify his actions. What's more, the P-I skipped over an important admission from Trevor, one that would seem to prove Aaron Palmer was not, as the P-I had claimed, dealing drugs. During his interview with Trevor, P-I reporter Chris McGann asked him how often people visited his father's house "about" marijuana. Trevor told McGann that "people visited the house on account of the marijuana" only twice.
With 14 plants and so few visitors, anyone should know Aaron Palmer wasn't dealing drugs. Seattle Police Department spokesperson Deanna Nollette told The Stranger that "a large volume of people coming and going from a house, staying for short visits at odd hours of the night" is the best sign that people are dealing drugs out of their home.
McGann knows this too. "If you're dealing drugs out of your house, there's going to be hundreds of people coming and going," McGann acknowledged when I interviewed him. He didn't, however, put that analysis in his story. Only toward the end does McGann mention that just two people visited the house about the marijuana.
With all these new facts in its possession, the P-I's July 8 follow-up story should have been a retraction. But it wasn't. "The 'right thing' tears at a family," read the headline to McGann's piece.
To date, the P-I has not corrected its account. In its pages and on its website, Aaron Palmer is still the drug-dealing dad, and Trevor Palmer is still the hero who, in his own words, "saved his sister and brother from this guy."
Perhaps the real Aaron Palmer story is this: The police knew the number of pot plants being kicked around in the media was wrong, and yet they did nothing to correct it. The P-I should be looking into that; or at least running some sort of correction.
"It's definitely something we'll be looking into," George told me.