Getting the story right

As a professional journalist for 37 years, all I have ever strived to do is get the story right. I don’t go into a story with an agenda. And I wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving in this business if I got things wrong. I take it personally when I do. This week, I told the story of two victims of a Feb. 27 shooting inside a home in broad daylight that resulted in the Stockton police SWAT team coming out to hunt for the suspect. They never found him, but four days later he turned himself in to authorities in Alameda County and was brought back to San Joaquin County. Five days after the shooting incident, I made contact with a family member of Caroline Toe, the woman who was shot. I was told Toe was still in the hospital and was expected home that evening. I presented a business card and left. As soon as I returned to the office, I received a phone call from Toe – who had just arrived home from her stay in the hospital – inviting me back to her home so she could tell her story. I asked if she was ready to talk, and she assured me at that time she was. When I arrived about 20 minutes later, I was invited into the home. I was wearing my press badge indicating I am a reporter with The Record. Two police detectives were there, just finishing up an interview. There were also children and the family member in the home, and dinner was being cooked. The setting was a bit chaotic. After the detectives left, I started speaking with Toe and Marley Bah. At that time, I did not know what their relationship was. When I asked if they were married, the indication was yes. In further conversation, when I referred to “wife” and “husband,” neither of them corrected me. So I reported they were married, which is not the case. Toe told me later they are simply good friends. I am profoundly sorry for getting this basic fact wrong. During the interview, Toe became progressively agitated and emotional as she stood in the spot where she was shot for the first time. A refugee from Liberia, Toe speaks with a heavy accent, and it became more difficult to understand her words. It required me to ask her to repeat herself several times, only making matters worse. Not wanting to upset her further, I ended the interview believing I had the information I needed to tell the story right. I presented my business card again and left. Two days after the story came out, Toe called me. She was very nice on the phone, but because of a poor phone connection and her accent, I decided to visit her again in her home. This time she was in her bed, weaker than I had originally seen her and still recuperating from her gunshot injuries, and she communicated to me that several things she had said to me were not reported right. Since it was still difficult to understand her, and she does not read or write English, we decided that her friend Marley Bah would listen to her story and write down what she said. Here’s a few other things she told me. She didn’t realize I was a newspaper reporter until after our initial interview was completed and I was leaving her home. She believed I was there in the capacity of someone who could help her. The suspect police identified as Dwight Smith, 25, who lived in a room in her home, has always been known to her as Dawub Bey. She experienced some terrible things in Liberia and came to America five years ago to provide a safe home for her children. She no longer feels safe in her home in Stockton.

Now for Caroline Toe’s story in her own words, as transcribed by her friend Marley Bah:

“Wednesday morning – Caroline Toe, a single mother with three children and refugee from Africa, Wednesday 27 February dropped kids at school. I came back with friend Marley Bah after 8 a.m. I got to my house and Marley was out packing garbage. There was no one home at that time. I heard Marley and Dawud talking outside. “Why did you break the fence?” I heard Marley ask Dawud. That’s how I came out to them. I asked, “What’s going on, Marley?” And Marley said, “Dawud broke the fence.” I looked at the fence and it was true. The fence was open. I asked Carrie, “Why did you break through the fence. You know I am just renting and don’t own the place.” Carrie said she was sorry. At that point, I told Carrie that the landlord is gonna ask me to pay. Carrie said she was sorry. I said to Marley, “Forget about it,” and then started fixing the fence. Carrie and Dawud left us fixing the fence and went in their room. Marley went in and I came after him. I stopped at laundry room. Carrie came out of her room and went past me. After that, Dawud stood by his door and asked for Marley and said that “we need to talk.” I asked, “talk about what?” I was not even looking at himi. All of a sudden I heard a gun shot pass me and I yelled, “God, where am I gonna leave my children when I die?” I ran outside while shooting was going on. When I got to the street, I saw Marley outside running down. I start running towards him and told him I am being shot at and that he should help me. That when he helped me lay down on the lawn and start seeking help. A lady stopped and called 911 for us. That’s when the police and the fire service came and got me to the hospital. Dawud and Carrie never even paid. All they gave was $50 deposit.”

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  • Blog Author

    Joe Goldeen

    Joe Goldeen has been with The Record since 1990. He is an award-winning journalist and member of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship. He is a native of Northern California with a bachelors degree in political economy from the ... Read Full
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