Sorry, but the only person who did anything wrong was the perpetrator.
That was Christian Mathiesen's response when I asked him yesterday about an apology he says was issued when he was talking to the creators of an online petition at a City Council meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The petition demands more information about why police didn't issue a press release or a statement after a woman reported being raped on the street near the intersection of East Avenue in Lincoln Avenue Sept. 1. At this point it has about 320 signatures, but every day I check it there are more.
Wednesday, Robin Dalton, one of the organizers of the petition went to the council meeting with a prepared statement.
“We are very pleased by Chief Cole’s remarks yesterday and would like to thank the police department for taking our concerns seriously,” she said. “We remain concerned, however, that Commissioner Mathiesen’s language seems to focus on asking women not to put themselves into dangerous situations.”
Mathiesen, in the wake of the attack, repeated something he keeps bringing it up: “Walking alone on a street at that time of night may not be advisable for a woman who is alone,” he said.
She said “Our purpose is about notifying the public to a public safety issue, not to place blame blaming the victim who he feels put herself at risk.”
Dalton said she was "surprised" by Mathiesen's response (the full webcast of which can be seen here. It's in the first portion of the meeting that included public comment), and "it was my understanding that the public remarks period isn't typically the venue in which city council members are supposed to be questioning you about statements you might make."
Mathiesen was noticeably upset when I asked him about the exchange between he and Dalton, and probably with good reason: Public Safety hasn't had the best week.
I won't rehash all of the details of the three police officers suspended after allegedly assaulting a man at Dango's late Sunday night (technically Monday morning), and I won't bother going into all of the details of the withholding of information about a Sept. 1 rape on a city street — because a national online publication already did. Now be aware that Jezebel is in the Gawker family and news is melded together with editorial comments and coarse language.
Mathiesen maintains the information was withheld for a reason, but said most of the reasons will likely never be made public.
Sources say the circumstances of the attack are vague, at best, and Mathiesen said at this point police can't say it was a rape for sure.
Mathiesen pointed to last year's yet-unsolved rapes and other incidents on city streets and said the public was notified about those incidents.
"This was different," he said. "There were complex issues that made it more difficult to determine (whether to send out a notice)."
In his exchange with Dalton Wednesday, Mathiesen said “We apologized to the public for not being able to notify them." Neither Dalton, nor I, knew that an apology had been issued so I called him Thursday night to clarify.
His response was the quote I began this blog post with ("I apologize that we couldn't give out more information. I apologize for what this turned into. I don't think there is a reason to apologize for the whole incident.")
He said that after he asked me if he had to "issue an official apology," and then insisted that "There is nothing to apologize for. No one did anything wrong here but the perpetrator."
Mathiesen also questioned The Saratogian's article, which in print was headlined: "Police: Rape information withheld.
"The newspaper article I thought was inflammatory and I thought was incomplete," he said. A letter to the editor from Mathiesen about that story is slated to run in Sunday's Saratogian.
At Wednesday's meeting, Mathiesen said Dalton and the other organizers of the petition should have come to him before coming out with this petition.
"Rather than react to a newspaper article it would make more sense to contact us first," Mathiesen said.
"I have an office, I have a phone there," he said. "Nobody came to my office in September. Nobody came to my office in October."
He then said he was trying to contact organizers of the petition, to which Dalton responded "No one has received a call from you."
In his conversation with me Thursday, Mathiesen was even more agitated (all becasue of my "misinformation," I'm sure).
He said there are "no ulterior motives" and said the decision not to issue a statement about the reported rape in September had nothing to do with it being track season or a desire to cover the crime up, something he said to Dalton as well. Like her, I had to point out that I never said either of those things were true and I don't believe they are.
I did say I believe the public has gotten a mixed message between Chief Chris Cole's statement that “In retrospect, it may have been appropriate to release a general statement regarding the incident," and Mathiesen's insistence that "the only person who did anything wrong is the perpetrator."
When I said that, Mathiesen latched onto the "may" in Cole's statement and emphasized it. When Dalton asked if he agreed with Cole, he hesitantly said "Yea... Yea but nobody is guilty here except the perpetrator."
He said to me and has said before that since there "hasn't been any subsequent rapes" the department "may have been right," not to send out a press release.
In the end, he said "I wish I could tell more, but I can't. I'm asking the community to trust me when I tell them this was done with the best of intentions and this was done with the safety of the city in mind."