Rick Carroll: Above the Fold
Aspen, CO, Colorado
No sooner had a judge two weeks ago dropped a bond from $450,000 to $2,500 in the case of Peter Nardi – a staggering reduction considering it happened within 24 hours – than people were calling the accuser “loony” and “crazy.”
The accuser’s credibility, at least in the court of public opinion, nose-dived along with the bond. But does that mean we should now publish her name? For the time being, we won’t. As a matter of practice, this newspaper, like most across the country, does not identify alleged victims of rape unless they are willing to come forward and tell their story.
Although the name of the accuser, who is Nardi’s ex-girlfriend, has not been printed by the local press, her identity is now an open secret in some circles, where she’s already been branded as a wealthy, socialite head case from Texas. And when a few people make such a judgment in a small town like Aspen, it doesn’t take long for that characterization to spread quickly and become the norm. Some friends of Nardi’s, meanwhile, have made him out to be the victim of false allegations.
These dynamics can make for a slippery slope in media coverage, as seen in the mainstream press’s approach toward the Steubenville rape case. CNN was blistered with criticism for sympathizing with the football players and their families and taking the focus off the victim and the trauma she suffered. Other media accounts emphasized how much the victim drank that night, as if that qualified her for such abhorrent treatment.
It’s premature to speculate about the facts surrounding the case of Nardi, but here’s what we know so far: Two weeks ago, both Aspen newspapers ran front-page stories about sexual-assault charges against the 50-year-old Aspen man who’s toiled in the local restaurant, bar and real estate scene for years. Nardi is also no stranger to being the subject of front-page news in the local papers, with such past transgressions as embezzlement and auto theft in his criminal portfolio.
But the new accusations went well beyond the garden-variety con games that sullied his reputation in the past. Basing their reports on an affidavit for the warrantless arrest of Nardi, both papers relayed the graphic accounts of the woman’s claims against Nardi. Taken at face value, the affidavit, written by an Aspen police officer, paints a horrific picture of Nardi holding the woman hostage over the course of a morning. Nardi tortured her, molested her and threatened to kill her, the woman told police.
The accusations were so heinous that Judge Gail Nichols put a $450,000 bond on Nardi. But a day later, prosecutor Andrea Bryan, obviously privy to new details in the case, asked that it be reduced to $2,500. That’s not a typo, but it is, at least in my 16 years covering the local court system, the biggest drop in any bond within 24 hours.
Bryan gave no reason for seeking the bond reduction except to tell the judge that the case is under investigation. And she certainly was not obligated to tell the press, thus fueling the rumor machine of what prompted the bond reduction.
The bond reduction doesn’t mean Nardi is in the clear. Bryan and the Aspen Police Department’s investigation could unearth new clues that could bury him for life, or they could find evidence that would completely exonerate him. Or it could be somewhere in the middle. But as of Monday, no charges had been filed.
Whatever the case, we felt obligated to give the story about the bond reduction the same front-page placement that Nardi received a day earlier. It was only fair, given the gravity of the situation.
If Nardi didn’t kidnap and rape his ex-girlfriend, he’ll still have to live with the fact that both papers, basing their reports on a police affidavit, splattered the allegations across their front pages that one April day in 2013. But if the woman’s accusations check out, then he should get exactly what the justice system calls for.
For now, only Nardi’s name is being reported, and the woman’s is not. It will remain that way unless the case completely alters its course – if the woman is charged with false reporting, for instance.
However, just because the authorities evidently rushed to arrest Nardi on suspicion of sexual assault does not mean the accuser should be tried in the court of public opinion. Like defendants, victims also have rights. And that applies to alleged victims, too.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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