On Tuesday, January 10th, we ran a story concerning the arrest of Warren County Deputy Sheriff Andy McDowell on charges of driving under the influence. As most of you know, Deputy McDowell recently lost both of his sons in near-simultaneous car crashes.
Since the D.U.I. story hit the air, I have received several phone calls and e-mails from viewers upset that we aired it. The complaints have ranged from cordial to threatening, but the general claims are that this story was not “news” and that I am heartless person void of compassion.
I certainly understand why this situation inspires such an emotional reaction; it is tragic to the extreme. I can not even imagine what this man is going through. To lose two children in such a manner has to be nearly unbearable. My heart and my prayers continue to go out to him and his family.
However, there are times when I have to put my personal feelings aside to make decisions; this is one of those times. The D.U.I. arrest of Andy McDowell is “news” in its purest form. The primary reason that journalism began is to provide a means of holding those in positions of power accountable for their actions. As a Deputy Sheriff, Andy McDowell is in a position of power.
Law enforcement is not a nine-to-five job; you do not stop being a cop just because you are off-the-clock. An off-duty officer has all of the arrest powers as his working counterpart. Every officer understands this from the moment they strap on their gun and fasten on their badge. As a long time veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, Andy McDowell knows this. He is always a representative of the “law” in Warren County.
In addition to that, he is an employee of every Warren County taxpayer. He is a public servant and should always be held to a higher standard than those in the private sector. Anyone who relies on tax money to pay his or her bills should be held to that same higher standard.
The thought of not reporting (covering up) a crime committed by a public servant is offensive to me as a journalist and it should be offensive to anyone as a citizen. Yes, Mr. McDowell did suffer a terrible loss and deserves our compassion and sympathy. However, that loss does not absolve him from his social responsibilities nor give him a blank check to break the law.
According to the police report, at 12:30 Tuesday morning Deputy McDowell was seen veering into the oncoming traffic lane on Veteran’s Memorial Road. When he was pulled over, he was slurring his words and refused to take a sobriety test because he had “had a few beers… and didn’t think he could pass one”.
I fully understand that Mr. McDowell is hurting. If alcohol is his escape, that’s his business. When he decides to get behind the wheel it becomes public business. At the very least, it brings his judgment as a public servant and a law enforcement officer into question.
It is only by the grace of God that no one else was killed. The Sheriff’s Department could have spent Tuesday morning telling some other father that his child was dead. I doubt that father would have much compassion for McDowell’s loss.