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Noozhawk Publisher Explains Fervent Broadsides Aimed at Police Brass, City Hall Over Tourist Murder

Noozhawk Publisher Bill Macfadyen on Friday discussed the journalistic and civic rationale fueling his recent series of impassioned columns criticizing the Santa Barbara Police Department's media-shy secretiveness in investigating the murder of a 52-year old visitor to the city.

On Dec. 9, Rob Gutierrez, a father of two from Camarillo, was shot near Stearns Wharf during an incident in which police later said he was "an innocent bystander." He died from the shooting eleven days later.

Authorities provided only minimal details the night of the crime, and afterward withheld all other information about it from reporters and the public - including the fact of Mr. Gutierrez's death -- until January 19; on that day, they announced the arrests of four adults and a 16-year old juvenile in the matter, via a 373-word prepared statement, without an opportunity for questions or other follow-up.

Since then, Macfadyen has written five fierce commentaries, totaling nearly 4,000 words, sharply critical of new Police Chief Kelly Ann Gordon, for the "obstinate secrecy of basic details" about the Gutierrez case; of the SBPD's lack of a broader statement about the crime's alleged connection to neighborhood gangs, which was revealed by the District Attorney's office; and of elected and non-elected local government officials for staying mum about the murder.

The columns raise questions about the tension between law enforcement's impulse towards confidentiality and the responsibility of journalists in preserving the public's right to know, as well as the pathways by which information travels in the age of social media, and the communications role of elected officials in the wake of heinous crimes.

"I want to be clear, we’re not trying to trample on the police investigation, get in the way, in any way sideline that investigation. We think this is a serious crime, but the law (about disclosure of public information) is the law, and the police department has to follow that law just as much as we do," Macfadyen said in a one-on-one interview.

"Some of this is public information and it's for the good of the public. The public deserves to know, and the police need to be telling us more than what they told us – 'just trust us, we’re investigating this, we’ll get to the bottom of it and then we’ll reveal all, at some certain date later on.' That’s not acceptable," he added.

In one column, Macfadyen wrote that he's heard from two prominent City Hall figures, whom he did not name, after he began voicing his opinion about the case. One characterized the killing as a "one-off," not part of an uptick trend in gang violence, and the other suggested the local news site should "stay in your lane."

"This was a tourist who was murdered in the heart of our tourist area and nobody has anything to say about that," he said in our interview. "Nobody has talked about, 'this is a tragic incident for the family of the victim, our hearts go out to them, we support them, this is not who our city is.'"

"Nobody's had any kind of statement about public safety and whether the public needs to be more careful about going about their everyday business, going to tourist areas, going to State Street - nobody’s said anything," he added. "It’s inexplicable,..

"And what I don‘t think city officials understand is, in this day and age of reviews and Yelp and the internet...this can spread like wildfire," Macfadyen told us. "And Santa Barbara is dependent on tourism dollars, and if this gets out, that tourists are not safe coming to Santa Barbara, because they can be popped by some gangbanger, what does that do to our industry, what does that do to our image as a community?"

P.S. SB Police Chief Gordon is scheduled to be our guest on "Newsmakers One-on-One" on Monday, when we'll have a chance to ask her about the murder of Mr. Gutierrez, among a number of other issues. If you have a question you'd like us to raise with the chief, please send us an email at


You can watch the full interview with Bill Macfadyen via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here.


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