A reporter at WXIA raised a question that I’d asked myself while driving home Monday night.
“You went into — the lobby? Camera rolling? Did you — ?”
Did I call the WXIA lawyer first? Actually, no. It went like this:
We were at a DeKalb County day care center. The administrator had been indicted by a federal grand jury for human trafficking. I wanted to talk to her. I suspected she might not want to chat with a TV reporter.
From outside, I called the facility. A woman answered, and stammered “who’s this? She’s not here” when I asked for the suspect. It had the whiff of BS, confirmed when a parent told us “oh yeah — she’s in there.” Most parents hadn’t heard about the allegation until they saw us.
Photog Tyson Paul and I pondered our options. There’s weren’t many. The center was a brick building. The administrator / human trafficking suspect wasn’t coming out.
“We could just go in, roll on it and see what happens.”
“Let’s do it.”
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done this: Enter a public business, photog in tow, rolling tape. But I flashed back to guidelines I’d gotten over the years. “You have to have a legitimate news interest. The building has to be open to the public. You can’t go past the public area of the business. If they tell you to leave, you must leave. But you can leave slowly. You can ask questions as you leave.”
Then I flashed back to numerous news stories I’d observed, mostly on WAGA and WGCL. The Restaurant Report Card flashed strongly in my mind. “If Adam Murphy can bust into a restaurant with a health score infraction, I can go into a day care where the administrator is charged with human trafficking.” Done. We went in.
The administrator didn’t react well to the friendly introduction I’d uttered upon entry. “This is private property. Please get out.” We backed toward the door.
“May I ask you a question first?” I said, as I backpedaled.
“Please leave now.” Her voice got louder.
“I’d like to ask you something –” I intended to offer a conversation off-camera. She wasn’t having it.
“Please leave NOW!” she screamed. We exited.
We waited outside in the street for the next ninety minutes. During that time, she told patrons of the day care that she’d been charged with a crime; it was just allegations; she was innocent. “Wish she’d have told me that,” I told a day care customer who’d related her explanation to me outside.
By the time we returned Tuesday, the administrator was gone. The state had ordered her to vacate. A replacement was in her office. I entered, sans camera. I introduced myself.
“No. I’m not talking you you. Please leave now,” said the replacement. A bit puzzled, I left immediately. I never got the indicted woman’s story, except second-hand, through customers.
She had plenty of opportunity.
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If you watched the story, you may notice a certain Addams Family quality to the graphics. Although Tyson Paul had created perfectly lovely graphics in WXIA’s Avid system, he learned after they aired that they were “corrupt.” It happens.