Matt Von Pinnon, Published March 22 2014
Von Pinnon: Skuza story was difficult for our readers and for us
Headlined “Officer who killed himself was to be fired,” it revealed that an internal investigation over an accidentally fired Taser led three deputy chiefs to recommend Fargo Police Lt. Jeff Skuza be fired for lying.
A day after learning of that recommendation and a day before he was to meet with the chief to discuss his professional fate, the 23-year veteran of the force took his own life.
The suicide shocked the community, many of whom knew Skuza both personally and professionally – including some of us at The Forum.
The prevailing question people always have when someone kills themselves is: Why?
Of course, we will never really know the answer to that, but when we learned Skuza was anguished by the prospect he might lose the stellar career and reputation he worked so tirelessly to build and uphold, we thought it might shed some light.
We know, for instance, that the loss of a loved one or a longtime career can make people feel lost and sometimes suicidal.
Unfortunately, many readers mistook our intentions for the story.
Many thought we were trying to discredit the man or his reputation after his death.
Many thought the story was insensitive to Skuza’s survivors.
Some thought the headline was too blunt, or didn’t show care.
Others thought the headline was not factual, since the chief had not yet delivered his decision.
And some said they didn’t think suicide should be examined at all.
In hindsight, we should have been more precise in our handling of the headline and more sensitive in our display of the story.
We meant no ill will.
Our reason for publishing the story was simply to add some information to a complicated situation.
Interestingly, I also heard from a couple of readers who thanked us for the story.
They said they had both been touched by suicides in their families and that the open speculation over what led their loved one to kill themselves was an unforeseen burden.
They said knowing more – even if it doesn’t paint a complete picture – is better than knowing nothing.
Another reader, having read some of the angry responses about the story in our letters to the editor, called with her perspective.
She said Skuza’s suicide touched her and others more deeply because he was a public servant.
“He is one of ours,” she said. “We are going to be a little more protective.”
She said she thought the story was well reported and very fair to Skuza and the police force, but it still upset her.
“I just keeping thinking about his family,” she said, trailing off into a whisper.
I think all of us feel that way.
Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579 or on Twitter @inforumed