Over the past couple of days, since the sentencing of Brock Allen Turner, a 20-year-old ex-Stanford student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster last year, the Cut has received a number of emails and tweets asking why we didn’t use Turner’s mug shot as the original image in our writing on the case. That’s because no mug shot had been released — until now.
Here’s the backstory: Turner’s case, and the authorities who booked and arrested him, was initially handled by the Stanford Department of Public Safety before being turned over to the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department. A spokesperson for the Stanford Department of Public Safety told the Cut that while anyone who is taken in for booking has their photo taken, it is up to the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department to decide whether or not to release the photo. (The same information was provided to Jezebel.)
But that’s not the full story. James Jensen, a public information officer for the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department, told the Cut that though the image is accessible within the county’s network of police departments, it’s the arresting agency’s responsibility to decide whether or not to release the photo — in this case, that’s the Stanford Department of Public Safety. The two departments seemed to be volleying the responsibility for releasing the mug shot back and forth. Around 4:30 p.m. today James Jensen of the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department finally emailed a mug shot to us — not the one from the day of Turner’s arrest, but from the day of his sentencing. Here’s the one taken the night of his arrest, provided to Boing Boing by the Stanford Department of Public Safety.
Why is it important that the photo be released? Optics. Turner’s name may be permanently marred by the crime, but he’s granted a reprieve by only having images of him smiling in dress suits available to the public. Presenting him as a well-dressed college athlete instead of the convicted felon he is could also open the victim’s statements up to unfair scrutiny.
And of course, the same mug-shot-hiding privilege would likely not be given to a person of color. As many Twitter users have pointed out, media outlets are much likelier to publish a mug shot and use the term rapist when talking about a black suspect rather than a white one.
This post has been updated throughout.