[12/4/16] Police investigating a notorious gang in a city on California’s central coast issued a fake press release that the chief credited with saving two men by deceiving gang members who wanted to kill them, but the ruse was criticized by news organizations who reported it as fact.
Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin defended the rare tactic this week when it came to light, saying he had never done such a thing in his 43-year career, but he wouldn’t rule out doing it again.
“It was a moral and ethical decision, and I stand by it,” Martin said Friday. “I am keenly aware and sensitive to the community and the media. I also had 21 bodies lying in the city in the last 15 months.”
The phony announcement issued in February was discovered in court documents and only reported this week by the Santa Maria Sun, a weekly newspaper in the city 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The daily newspaper and local television stations were unaware the information in the release was false when they reported that two men, Jose Santos Melendez, 22, and Jose Marino Melendez, 23, had been picked up for identity theft and handed over to immigration authorities.
In fact, detectives eavesdropping on the deadly MS-13 gang had raced to the home of the two cousins in nearby Guadalupe and took them into protective custody after learning hit men were on their way there.
Kendra Martinez, news director at KSBY-TV, said she was “deeply troubled” that police misled the public and news organizations.