Apology sort of accepted?

Sep. 08, 2013 @ 10:45 PM

We’re not sure what Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez did on Friday truly counts as a full apology, but if it does, we applaud him for it.

During a news conference, Lopez told reporters that he was sorry about an allegation by Assistant Chief Winslow Forbes that the chief told colleagues that a defense lawyer deserved to be shot.

That’s great, as far as it goes.

Sadly, he muddied it up by saying: “I believe someone may have made [the comment]. I cannot definitively say that it wasn’t made, and because I cannot definitively say it [wasn’t] made, I will take responsibility for it.”

Basically: If I said it or if someone else said it, and if I or someone else offended anyone by saying what I or they might have said, then I’m sorry. But I’m not saying for sure that I said it. Or that anyone else said it.

After all that pretzel-twisting, the chief might need a chiropractor.

City Manager Tom Bonfield seemed satisfied with the chief’s contrition. Bonfield told The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg: “The chief has indicated an apology to the community. He took full responsibility. I think we can move on.”

Mayor Bill Bell seemed ready to move on to more important matters too, but warned against repeated incidents.

“Whether he says it jokingly or off-handedly, those aren’t the type of remarks that should be made,” Bell said. “And they should be taken very seriously.”

City Council member Eugene Brown decried the lawyer comment scandal as “much ado about nothing,” blaming it on a disgruntled employee. Forbes had filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over Lopez’s decision not to promote Forbes to deputy chief.

Brown called the squabble over the flippant remark a “cul-de-sac” that distracts the city from addressing real issues, such as crime and poverty. “And in the cul-de-sac, you’re not making progress,” he said. “It’s a sideshow.”

We don’t entirely disagree with Brown’s point. Gallows humor isn’t exactly an alien concept among police officers (or members of the media, for that matter), and it’s unsurprising that comments like this might be made behind closed doors.

His invocation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado” is apt. Indeed, lawyer jokes are a time-honored tradition dating back to the Bard’s “Henry VI.”

But it stops being funny when the joke gets far too specific. It’s one thing to say, as Dick does, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” It’s quite another to say a lawyer targeted in a recent shooting deserved to suffer, even in jest.

We commend the chief for trying to get ahead of the problem with his news conference. But we think taking the high road – just owning up to it (really taking the bullet for it, as it were) and saying sorry – would have been preferable to a tortured, twisting middle road.