A media furore has exploded in Memphis, Tennessee, after a city swimming pool employee was charged with raping a 17-year-old girl and exposing her to HIV.
The media reports were based on a Memphis Police Department press release (below).
The case is particularly problematic because of the confusion in the police press release over:
- his job (they said he was a lifeguard, when in fact he was a pool worker, and – even more problematically - was fired by the City of Memphis when they learned of his arrest);
- whether "consensual sex with underage females" is a crime;
- and whether his HIV status is an aggravating factor, or whether the police are now looking for further complainants to make HIV exposure charges stick.
In fact, the press release is also a fishing expedition for further HIV exposure complaints.
Helping the police is the Memphis media, which has published the man's name and photo. One news story, on the Memphis news website, commercialappeal.com, has so far received over 160 comments, some of which threaten the man's life. Is publishing the man's name and photo really in the public interest?
Reading through some of the comments, it seems to many that the man's HIV status is more worrying than his alleged rape, with some having extremely unrealistic ideas over how HIV is transmitted. This isn't made any better by the media report itself, which suggests, subtly, that his HIV status puts others, including fellow prisoners, in some kind of danger.
However, at least one media outlet, Mediaverse, a Memphis-based blog that critiques local media coverage, has asked some extremely pertinent questions over how the police and the media have handled the case.
Story from Memphis news website, commercialappeal.com below.
City swimming pool worker faces rape, HIV charges
by Hank Dudding
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
An employee at a Memphis city swimming pool has been charged with raping a 17-year-old girl and exposing her to HIV last month.
Timothy Bernard Payne, 37, is being held in the Shelby County Jail on $250,000 bond.
The teen told investigators she accepted a man's offer of a ride home from the Westwood Community Center on July 31. Instead, he took her into a wooded area and sexually assaulted her.
The investigation led police to Payne, who was charged Monday with aggravated rape and criminal exposure to HIV.
An offender must know he carries the virus that causes AIDS to be charged with exposing others to it, said Maj. Joe Scott of the Memphis Police Department.
A police news release originally said Payne worked as a lifeguard at the community center, but the department later corrected the release to state that he was a pool attendant.
Pool attendants don't perform any lifesaving practices, said City of Memphis spokeswoman Toni Holmon-Turner.
The city fired Payne on Aug. 1 when it learned of the investigation, Holmon-Turner wrote in an e-mail. He was hired in 2006, a year before the city began doing background checks on temporary employees.
The pools are now closed for the summer, she said.
Police believe Payne has had sex with several underage females in the Westwood and South Memphis area and asked victims to call the sex crimes bureau at 545-5330.
Payne has a history of arrests dating to 1992. He was indicted on a rape charge in 1993, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor assault.
Records indicate he served five months in the Shelby County Correction Center in 2003 for vandalism. He's not listed on the state's sex-offender registry list.
The Shelby County Jail doesn't keep inmates with HIV separate from other prisoners, said sheriff's office spokesman Steve Shular.
"There's no immediate danger," he said. "We just do our best to know where all the inmates are."
The arrest was the latest troubling incident involving Memphis city pools this summer.
Two teens drowned May31 on the first day pools were open for the season, one of them at the Westwood pool.
The pools were then closed for a month. When they reopened, the city required pool users to carry ID cards and anyone who wanted to go into deep water had to pass a swimming test.