by Robert A. Waters
The media and bloggers had a lot of fun destroying a man’s reputation.
When a well-dressed stranger groped the crotches and buttocks of four women in some of New York City’s “toniest” neighborhoods, journalists had a field day. The attacks had been filmed on the surveillance cameras of several businesses, so NYPD released still shots of the suspect to the media. The "Gentleman Groper" suddenly became big news.
A reader called and identified Karl Vanderwoude as a look-alike for the "sicko." Dragged from his bed, the twenty-six-year-old businessman was subjected to NYPD’s infamous perp walk--complete with a grim-faced detective and hardass-looking female deputy. As the smirking cops guided the handcuffed suspect through a gauntlet of reporters, flash-bulbs popped and journalists shouted insulting questions.
While in custody, two victims picked Vanderwoude from a lineup, once again proving the fallacy of witness identification. The suspect denied that he had been in the area where the attacks had occurred. He gave detectives his cell phone and asked them to check it so they could determine his whereabouts at the time the groper struck. But NYPD dicks couldn't be bothered to actually check a suspect's alibi, so they ditched the cell phone and charged Vanderwoude with “forcible touching, unlawful surveillance, and sexual abuse.” If convicted, he could have served up to three years in prison.
The headlines said it all. Police pinch dapper ‘groper.’ Manhattan ‘grope’ goon charged. Some reporters were kind enough to throw the “a-word” (alleged) into their stories once or twice, but the damage was done.
Because Vanderwoude had attended a Christian college and held Bible studies in his apartment, he came under the glare of an atheist blog with the ill-chosen name, “Deep Thoughts.” The title of one of their articles read: Hands that pray also prey. Hehehe. Get it? “Karl VanderWoude likes to hang out with friends,” the editor wrote, “host bible studies, pray, and allegedly grope young women and snap upskirt photos. Don’t worry though, he’s a nice Christian.”
Fortunately for the suspect, job records proved he was innocent. MVision, the private equity firm Vanderwoude works for, provided its own surveillance videos and emails showing him at work during the hours of one of the attacks. A restaurant receipt proved he’d been dining with co-workers when another assault occurred. (Vanderwoude's attorney stated that NYPD investigators never checked any of his client's statements until the documents were given to them by his lawyers.)
Yesterday, a judge dropped all the charges against Vanderwoude and pronounced him “exonerated.”
For the media, the fun was over.
At least until a new suspect can be found.