PICKENS — When Kayla Finley walked into the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office last Thursday to deal with a domestic dispute, no one — including the department — had any idea the media furor that was coming.
Finley was arrested that day on a warrant from 2005, issued for Larceny/Failure to Return a Rented Video, and released the next morning on a personal recognizance bond of $2,000. It wasn’t long after her release the phones and email of Chief Deputy Creed Hashe and Sheriff Rick Clark began to ring and a media frenzy ensued.
“After 30 years in law enforcement, I was shocked at the attention this case drew,” Hashe said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Media requests came into the department from as far away as Germany and Holland and the presentation of the case and how the department handled it on a national and international basis was skewed, according to Clark.
“It could have been a more professional procedure on everybody’s part in the media,” he said Wednesday. “There were some who were very professional instead of sensationalizing it, but for the most part, it was about sensationalizing the story. Here, the story is the story, not what happened.”
Since Finley’s arrest, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has been presented in a negative light for serving the warrant, which Hashe says has nothing to do with the department or discretion.
“When a warrant is issued, we have no choice but to serve that warrant,” Hashe said. “It doesn’t matter how much the theft is. If the warrant is valid on its face, we have no discretion.
“The only time discretion would come into play would be due to extenuating circumstances, like a medical condition or an issue with kids,” Hashe added. “If we couldn’t provide proper medical care or didn’t have the facilities for whatever the situation is, we could use some discretion. Outside of that, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it when the judge’s orders on the warrant are to ‘bring her before me.’”
Hashe, in his capacity as Chief Deputy, deals with the news media, and in this case says he went to extra lengths to put the correct information out to the public concerning the arrest of Finley, even going so far as to explain the department’s duties in the press release he issued.
“It seemed to me to me the larger the media outlets the less they wanted to hear the details of this case,” Hashe said. “When we would try to explain the department’s position, that there was no other choice based on the warrant, they didn’t want to discuss that. To the media, this was about a $5 video rental.”
The fact this was a video rental plays a big part in the perception of the case, but Clark was clear this incident was worth more than that.
“For the business owner, this was more than a $5 rental,” Clark said. “The business lost the $100 video and future revenue. I’m sure the same people who are upset over this, if it was their $100 worth of merchandise missing, stolen, or not returned, they would feel different.”
At one point the department was forced to even close off its social media outlets because of the public’s comments.
“We had to take our Facebook page down last night because it became so malicious what people were posting,” Hashe explained. “It was horrible. So, we had to remove the platform to let this situation defuse.”
The department has also been flooded with emails and letters from all over the country in response to the situation.
Is Clark worried about the department’s reputation within the community?
“We do good work here and we’ll have more positive stories of what we’re doing fighting crime in the county,” he said. “The people who know us and know what we’re doing and what we stand for, they know what kind of work we do. This is just a bump in the road that we’re dealing with on a national level.”
Even though Clark knows the media interest in the story will die down, that doesn’t make him feel better about the media’s coverage.
“I think the sad thing is the attention to this smaller incident is infinitesimally larger than the murder we just solved,” Clark said. “We have a family in Dacusville hurting and we’re getting national attention over a video rental. That shows us where we’re at with this new age of media and making assumptions and reacting to them without the full knowledge of what we’re doing here. It’s very dangerous.”
According to Hashe, warrants like this one aren’t that unusual.
“One particular network reporter even used the words that we had damaged her (Finley’s) reputation by making her sit in jail overnight for a $5 video rental,” Hashe said. “Unfortunately, we serve warrants every day for offenses sometimes less in value than that.”