Baker's Dozen: Truth still taking a beating 

Rarely has a story been so skewered, overheated and poorly served as the tale involving the choral group from Yale University whose members found themselves on the wrong side of some punches following a drunken soirée in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve.

The latest entrée in the ongoing case is expected to be presented this week in the form of arrest warrants for some of the most aggressive combatants, who are likely to be charged with felony assault for their roles in the early morning dustup. But one thing that should not to be lost in the coverage of the case is the headline-hunting antics of the politically motivated participants that has given the story its own motto: The few. The provoked. The misled.

For those caught up in the breaking news that Beyoncé is this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl, a brief recap. On our national amateur drinking holiday, a male a cappella singing group from Yale was at a house party doing what college-age kids do, when a taunting altercation broke out between certain individuals that escalated and ended up in a brawl between residents of San Francisco and the visitors from New Haven, Conn. Those close to the investigation say that the initial exchange had a student from Yale suggesting that he liked the odds of any potential fight, since at that time the members of the Baker’s Dozen singing group outnumbered the local competition about 16 to 2.

The two then reportedly called in reinforcements, and when the fists started flying, the Yalies realized they should never bring a songbook into a street fight. Two members of the Baker’s Dozen received fairly serious injuries, including one whose jaw was broken.

But by the time police responded to the scene, most of those involved had scattered, and investigators didn’t even know that anyone required medical attention. Yet that hardly blocked the rush of accusations that followed about police cover-ups and foot-dragging, as well as the absurd suggestion that it somehow involved a rivalry between Catholic high schools in San Francisco.

That tale was being spun by the press-hungry attorneys quickly hired by the Yalestudents, two of whom, Jim Hammer and Matt Gonzalez, are said to be seeking higher office in San Francisco this year. The story received national attention — much of it devoid of factual content — and got more local press than any triple homicide in memory.

It is now mid-February and the reason the case has taken so long to get to the charging phase is that the District Attorney’s Office has insisted that investigators do every conceivable interview before they bring it public. And all the while the very well-connected Yale parents have beaten the drum of consternation about the pace of the official inquiry — under the guise that their model sons were all victims, rather than a group of guys who without doubt picked the wrong fight.

The rhetorical flames on this story show no sign of abating. The latest flare-up now revolves around the fact that some of those involved in the fight are apparently members of the Marines and that attorneys for some of the Yale students are having difficulty tracking the alleged assailants down because they are overseas. Indeed, a letter made very public by reputed district attorney-candidate Hammer suggest that the "case has the potential of generating extremely negative publicity’’ for the Marine Corps.

Yet what it really indicates is that the level of publicity drummed up by the attorneys for the college kids who suffered injuries is going to make it difficult to find a jury in San Francisco that hasn’t digested reams of stories about the case. And while a courtroom may be a great stage to showcase the talents of lawyers with political ambitions, it’s not necessarily a good venue for prosecutors who must bear the weight of pretrial scrutiny to seek some level of justice.

One of the questions that’s never been asked in the Baker’s Dozen case is why a bunch of "innocent’’ victims would immediately seek legal representation. By the time police investigators tracked down most of the Yale students in Southern California more than a week after the incident, there were enough billing hours to send a kid to Stanford.

By the time some hard questions were being asked, the students were being advised to cling to a vow of silence. But the families of some of the Yale students have continued to bring pressure to bring the case to court.

In the end, the case is likely to show that the truth also took a beating, with politics playing a pivotal role in the final outcome.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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