With over a week of turmoil for Ohio State’s coach Urban Meyer and the OSU football program, vindication, and a lot of problems for the original journalism piece may be on the horizon.
An Ohio lawyer, under the condition of anonymity on Reddit, has posted a scathing legal opinion of the original report posted by Brett McMurphy a journalist formerly with ESPN.
Posted to Reddit’s OhioStateFootball online forum, the piece depicts a journalist void of integrity, who has since modified his original report on Zach Smith’s domestic violence charge multiple times.
The post was also made to other, larger Reddit groups such as CFB (an acronym for College FootBall), but was promptly removed – likely in an anti-Ohio State bias, as Reddit moderators are known to delete many pertinent threads due to bias for and against certain topics.
The report from the lawyer is as follows, and the link to the original post can be found here:
Pre-B1G Media Day Reports
Brett McMurphy posted his initial report regarding Zach Smith on 07/23/2018 at 8:05 AM (see Attachment 1). This report involved the Courtney Smith’s recently filed Civil Protection Order (CPO) against Zach Smith. McMurphy’s report made no mention of an alleged felonious assault, an arrest, or felony counts of domestic violence.
Attachment 1: https://imgur.com/Cfskyc6
McMurphy edited his post on 07/23/2018 at 2:17 PM (see Attachment 2) and again did not reference anything regarding a felonious assault, an arrest, or felony counts of domestic violence.
Attachment 2: https://imgur.com/qGW1cTW
Brett McMurphy then posted on 07/23/2018 at 5:54 PM (see Attachment 3). This is the post regarding an alleged second incident involving Smith, and this is the report that led to Smith getting fired. This report states that Smith “was arrested” Oct. 26, 2015 on “felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against Courtney Smith.”
Attachment 3: https://imgur.com/S2xvBag
This post was edited on 07/23/2018 at 7:51 PM (see Attachment 4) and again on 07/23/2018 at 7:56 PM (see Attachment 5). All of these pre-B1G media day edits referenced Zach Smith being “arrested” for “felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault.” As I’ll get to later, McMurphy edited this report on Facebook again after Meyer’s press conference.
Attachment 4: https://imgur.com/jCP7xTb
Attachment 5: https://imgur.com/rYjxvyb
Meyer’s Press Conference (07/24/2018)
So Meyer gave his now infamous press conference on 07/24/2018. McMurphy’s report at this time (see above) is that Zach Smith was “arrested” for “felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against Courtney Smith.” In response to a question about that report, Urban stated: “I got a text late (Monday) night (about a report) something happened in 2015. And there was nothing. Once again, there’s nothing – once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that.”
I’m now going to bludgeon this dead horse with a baseball bat here: McMurphy’s report prior to B1G media day states that Smith was “arrested” for “felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault.”
As McMurphy’s own edits after B1G media day show, this was factually incorrect. But to top that off, even McMurphy’s corrections were inaccurate.
McMurphy’s Edits and Reports After B1G Media Day
McMurphy Edits His 07/23/2018 Post
McMurphy then edited this 07/23/2018 Facebook post on 07/25/2018 at 2:00 PM, or about 26 hours after Meyer’s press conference (see Attachment 6). This revision again states “arrested.”
McMurphy edited this post again on 07/30/2018 at 5:31 PM (see Attachment 7). It is not until this 07/30/2018 at 5:31 PM that McMurphy walks back that Zach Smith was arrested. This revision — six days after Meyer’s press conference — completely omits that Smith was arrested, and instead says “investigated.” McMurphy also adds the line: “The original police report, from 2015, indicated Zach Smith was arrested. The police report released to the media on Tuesday says Smith was not arrested.”
As I noted at the top of my edit, this “redaction” is not even accurate — neither police report checked the “arrest” box. Unless McMurphy has a third one (even though his redaction only references two), I don’t know where he got this from.
In terms of timeline, prior to B1G media day, McMurphy’s report stated Smith was arrested; six days after B1G media day, McMurphy edited his report walking that allegation back without issuing a correction.
Attachment 6: https://imgur.com/RfsiqMD
Attachment 7: https://imgur.com/zCFIo04
McMurphy Creates and Edits an 07/24/2018 Facebook Post
In between editing the above post, and shortly after Meyer’s press conference, McMurphy made another Facebook post to add details regarding Meyer’s press conference. The original version of this post by McMurphy was on 07/24/2018 at 6:54 PM (see Attachment 8). This version of the post — after Meyer’s press conference — states that Smith was “arrested and investigated.” This report further no longer refers to the investigation as “felony domestic violence.” McMurphy edited this post again on 07/30/2018 at 5:33 PM and 10:00 PM (see Attachments 9 and 10). This is six days after Meyer’s press conference. Attachment 9 (07/30/2018 at 5:33 PM) states that Smith was “arrested and investigated.” Attachment 10 (07/30/2018 at 10:00 PM) instead just says “investigated.”
Attachment 8: https://imgur.com/vUKU1he
Attachment 9: https://imgur.com/ASta7QO
Attachment 10: https://imgur.com/5VFcWeC
McMurphy Drops His Bombshell Report on 08/01/2018
McMurphy then dropped the bombshell report on 08/01/2018 at 10:17 AM (see Attachment 11).
Attachment 11: https://imgur.com/BpTrfxf
There are two things to note about this. First, McMurphy does not reference an arrest, nor does he reference anything regarding felony counts of domestic violence. He instead only refers to “domestic violence allegations.” I won’t bore you with the other 11 edits of this post, but I’ve reviewed them all, and McMurphy never references felony domestic violence.
McMurphy also again provided his retraction about 40 paragraphs into his article: “On the original Oct. 26, 2015 Powell Police report, a box on the form was checked indicating Zach had been arrested. However, nearly three years later – after I reported the incident last week – the Powell Police released a revised version of the report to the media and the arrest box was no longer checked. “The terminology used by the Police Department was different in the original report (dated 10/26/2015) and inconsistent with what actually occurred,” said Megan Canavan, director of communication for the Powell Police Department.
Again, beating a dead horse here — NEITHER police report references an arrest.
Update — I Have the Police Reports
So there are two police reports (even according to McMurphy’s reporting). I will again admit to eating some crow here — the revised police report does list the domestic violence as a felony. This is an incorrect listing on a police report, but McMurphy wouldn’t know that. He probably should have reached out to a lawyer or a police officer to ask about the charges and why they changed between reports.
But anyway, neither report references an “arrest” of Zach Smith. One says investigation pending, the other does not have any box checked.
I have no earthly idea where McMurphy got his information from. He should release it immediately.
A Brief Note on Ohio Domestic Violence Law
Felony Domestic Violence
I’ll get back to McMurphy in a bit, but wanted to make a few points about felony domestic violence. Again, I am eating crow here, because the one report does indicate felonious domestic violence. I think this is in error for the following reasons. Attachment 12 is Ohio’s statute regarding domestic violence:
Attachment 12: https://imgur.com/a/6z8pyUo
Translation of that legal jibberish: Sections (A)-(C) govern what constitutes domestic violence. Section (D) outlines the severity of the offense. Domestic violence is a misdemeanor. It is upgraded to a felony if (and only if) the offender has previously been convicted of domestic violence — Sections (D)(2)-(4) — or the victim is pregnant — Sections (D)(3)-(5).
Zach Smith was not previously convicted for domestic violence, nor was Courtney Smith pregnant. I believe the “felony” indication on the new report is legally incorrect, and it would not have been charged as such by a prosecutor.
There is No “Not Pressing Charges” Under Ohio Law
Ohio domestic violence law is actually quite progressive. Attachment 13, below, outlines the policy for officers arriving at a domestic violence scene:
Attachment 13: https://imgur.com/a/d9KpBzu
In sum, if the officer finds a reasonable belief — not proof beyond a reasonable doubt — that domestic violence occurred, he shall make an arrest, shall detain the offender until a warrant can be issued, and shall make a charge of felonious assault. Thus, unlike other states (like Florida, where Courtney elected not to press charges), there is no discretion here for the responding officer. This is great policy and should be the law in every state.
If the officer does make an arrest, the case is referred to a prosecutor. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the case is then out of the victim’s hands (again, good policy). The prosecutor and only the prosecutor may make or drop charges.
This makes McMurphy’s reporting of an arrest critically, critically, critically important. The reporting of an arrest indicates that there was, in fact, a reasonable belief that Zach Smith committed domestic violence and/or felonious assault; conversely, a non-arrest means that responding officers did not have a reasonable belief that domestic violence occurred.
Summary of Timeline
Prior to B1G media day, McMurphy’s reports clearly stated that Zach Smith was “arrested” for “felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against Courtney Smith.” We now know there was no arrest.
Meyer then went to Big Ten media day and denied knowing of the 2015 report by McMurphy — and that report was, at the time, a report of arrest, felonious assault, felony domestic violence.
After media day, McMurphy then carefully edited his pre-B1G media day posts to redact any mention of an arrest and felony counts of domestic violence. He made multiple edits to multiple posts without issuing a correction. His bombshell report on 08/01/2018 then did not reference an “arrest” or “felony count of domestic violence,” and it was not until then — and 40 paragraphs down in his article at that — that he FINALLY said Smith was not arrested.
To state it as short as possible: McMurphy went from “arrest” on 07/23/2018, to “investigated and arrested” on 07/24/2018, to “investigated” on 07/30/2018, to “allegations” on 08/01/2018. Sandwiched in between that wild ride of reporting is Urban Meyer’s press conference.
First Conclusion: McMurphy Has Been Editing Reports Without Redactions, and His Biggest “Correction” Might be Inaccurate
Firstly, it seems clear to me that McMurphy should have issued standard journalistic corrections. When the NYT or WaPo even so much as spells a name wrong or refers to a professor with her incorrect title, the article contains a clear “correction” at the very beginning or end of the story (usually in italics). According to the Society for Professional Journalists (https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp), journalists should: “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work;” “remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy;” “gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.”
Regardless of McMurphy’s sources, it is absolutely clear that he has failed to issue proper redactions in accordance with journalistic standards. McMurphy realized after B1G media day that he was wrong. His reports were consistently edited without issuing the usually prominent journalistic corrections.
In fact, he continued to shadow-edit Facebook posts that were originally posted before Meyer’s press conference as far as six days after Meyer’s press conference. His reporting, when examined closely, walked way, way, way back from where he originally started, yet no formal correction or redaction was ever issued.
Second Conclusion: McMurphy Should Release His Police Report
I know stories evolve, and I know facts and understandings change. McMurphy’s allegations, however, were not minor details. Rather than issue corrections, McMurphy has slyly edited his Facebook posts to conform to the evidence. He further did not issue any retraction until more than a week after, and even his retraction was inaccurate.
At the very least, perhaps publishing this info will make McMurphy publish his police report, which nobody else seems able to obtain. And if that report does not corroborate McMurphy’s reporting, then that’s a separate legal analysis. But I’m sure you’re done with my boring legal bullshit at this point.