As regular readers know, I’ve been following the Erin Cox case from North Andover, Massachusetts for some time.  The previous four articles may be found here:

Erin Cox: Zero Tolerance, Zero Judgment

Erin Cox, Part 2: Rumors and Accusations  

Erin Cox, Part 3: Innuendo and Hearsay  

Erin Cox, Part 4: The Media Spikes…It’s Out of Bounds 

In the second article of this series, I wrote:

When writing about stories like that of Erin Cox, the 17 year-old honor student relieved of her role as captain of the North Andover High School volleyball team and suspended for five games because she tried to give a ride home to a drunk friend and stumbled into a police raid of the party from which the friend called her, it’s always possible to miss something.  I don’t have all of the facts; I wasn’t there, and don’t have the police reports.

I certainly know how wrong the media can get things, not only because they favor certain narratives, but because they are often less then competent and all too willing not to check stories that are “too good to check.”  And of course, when one is dealing with teenagers, it’s always wise to be cautious, as most kids will sometimes be less than careful with the truth.

Those who have read the first four articles have noted that there are many contradictions in this case, and to date, all appear to be on the part of those claiming that Erin Cox, in some way, lied.  In a brief comment to Part 4, Tom Duggan of the Valley Patriot wrote:

while I enjoyed your very thorough (though somewhat biased) analysis…she confessed and plead guilty.

I replied:

Dear Tom Duggan:

Thanks for your comment, but would you be able to provide proof?  If so, I’ll surely follow up on it.

I have not heard from Mr. Duggan, and I’ll leave it to readers to determine how biased my analysis has been, however, on 11-17-13, he published an article in the Valley Patriot titled:  “Erin Cox Confesses to Drinking at Underage Party That Gained National Attention – The History of a Bogus Media Story That Never Happened.”  The lede:  

Valley Patriot sources at Lawrence District Court and in law enforcement tell The Valley Patriot that North Andover volleyball player Erin Cox was in court last month with a signed confession, admitting she was in possession of alcohol and consuming alcohol at an underage drinking party.

Cox claimed initially that she was only at the drinking party to give a drunk friend a ride home when police arrived. Her attorney at the time, Wendy Murphy, went on a nationwide media blitzpromoting the false narrative that Cox was the victim of a school system out of control and that North Andover’s “zero tolerance policy” resulted in her suspension from the volleyball team and the loss of her position as captain.

Attorney Murphy and Cox’s Mom Eleanor Cox told the media that Erin was being punished for ‘doing the right thing’. That narrative was repeated without question by television, newspapers and radio stations across the globe prompting people to donate money to an Erin Cox scholarship fund from as far away as Australia.

Cox, who is 17 years old, now admits to being at the underage drinking party on September 28, 2013. Cox says in her confession that she was there approximately an hour before Boxford police broke it up, a direct contradiction to her earlier claims.

‘My name is Erin Cox,’ her hand written letter to the court states.

“I am 17 years old. On September 28, 2013. I was at the party in Boxford, MA. I was there for about an hour before police arrived. While I was there I was in possession of alcohol and consumed alcohol, even though I was underage. There were numerous underage people there as well. I am admitting to this offense and wish to enter into a diversion program.

Duggan does not provide a copy of or link to that document.  If we assume this reporting and anonymous “Valley Patriot sources” in the district court and law enforcement are accurate, there remain a number of perplexing questions.  If Duggan’s sources for this story do indeed come from the local court and law enforcement, they are not only violating the ethics of their positions, but likely, Massachusetts privacy laws relating to juveniles.  This is an inherent problem of this sort of case.  Pursuing facts that are hidden behind privacy walls requires someone to breach those walls, always unethically, usually illegally.  One may argue that the public has a “right to know,” but there is no such “right” in the Constitution or elsewhere.  This also raises the question about whether it is ethical for journalists to entice public employees to violate the public’s trust and even the law.  After all, this is hardly an issue of national security or the betrayal of a vital public trust by a high governmental official.  There is not a great deal of honor in whistleblowing in such cases.

Here’s another real problem:

The officer who charged Cox with possession of alcohol was Boxford Police Officer Brian Neeley, the same officer who wrote the email to the North Andover Schools on her behalf.

This is simply bizarre.  If Officer Neely believed that Cox had not been drinking, as he stated in his e-mail, why did he issue her a citation, and why did he write the e-mail?  Is the e-mail a fake?  That seems unlikely, and no one has so much as suggested it.  No juvenile privacy law would prevent Officer Neely or his police agency from disowning a fake e-mail.  So what is going on?

As I’ve previously written, the mere existence of that e-mail would tend to cause any prosecutor to dismiss any charge against Cox.  As I also noted, her attorney, Wendy Murphy, said Cox “was not charged,” which could have been lawyerese for “not taken into physical custody.”  However, the broadest understanding of the term “charged” would arguably include a non-custodial citation.

Duggan also wrote:

Attorney Murphy stated several times that School Attorney Geoffrey Bok “lied” when he referred to Erin Cox in his opposition as having been “arrested”. His opposition motion does make several references to her “arrest” which police officials say is not correct. No evidence can be found that Attorney Bok “lied” as a summons or notice to appear is exactly the same in the eyes of the court as she was being compelled to appear in court.

As I’ve previously written, this too is contradictory and odd.  Murphy claims that school district attorney Bok liked when he claimed Cox had been arrested, but Duggan writes that his opposition motion “does make several references to her “arrest” which police officials say is not correct.”  What?!  In any reasonable interpretation of Duggan’s prose, the local police are saying that when Bok wrote that Cox was arrested, he was “not correct,” or in common, everyday English, he lied.  Yet Duggan says that there is no evidence that Bok lied, citing the distinction I have drawn regarding physical custody arrests and citations.  Apparently the local police think that distinction important and believe that Cox was not arrested.  Because even a citation is actually an arrest, this would tend to support Murphy and the police, not Duggan or Bok.

In a companion editorial, Duggan essentially repeated his reporting and suggested an apology from Cox.  In his news companion piece, he also wrote:

Murphy has not commented on the matter since Erin Cox confessed to the court that she was indeed drinking at the party. Not ONE member of the national news media has informed their readers or viewers that the story they told (for four straight days) about Cox being punished for ‘doing the right thing,’ was false.

Regular readers know I am anything but a defender of the mainstream media.  Perhaps they have not retracted their stories because they do not have definitive proof they were wrong.  Can we believe Duggan’s anonymous sources?  Perhaps.  As I wrote, it would certainly not be unusual for any teenager in a difficult situation to present them self in the best possible light, even to lie.  Perhaps Erin Cox did lie about this.  Duggan certainly seems to believe that, but if he does have a copy of Cox’s handwritten “confession,” he is also sufficiently savvy not to publish it or to reveal from whom he received it.  That could be legally expensive.  It is possible, too, that the police and courts wanted that information leaked, so the leakers had nothing to fear, but that opens another can of ethical and legal worms, and arguably a larger and more convoluted can.

By all means, read Duggan’s entire article and his opinion piece.  I’ll note only that the article is essentially a repeat, often word for word, of his previous articles.

Even if Cox did lie, there still remain a number of inexplicable anomalies one virtually never sees in these situations.  That, more than anything, is why I am reluctant to proclaim a definitive resolution.

I’ll continue to dig toward a resolution I can report with confidence.  Until then, you have all the facts I’ve been able to discover.  I recommend that you, gentle readers, don’t hold your breath.