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Editorial: Petaluma deserves transparency in Michaels ‘kidnapping’ case

Communication a concern in high-profile case

Nearly a week had passed from the time Sonoma resident Katie Sorensen reported being stalked to police and when Sorensen, a social media influencer with thousands of followers, decided to broadcast attempted kidnapping allegations in two, disquieting videos posted to her Instagram account.

In the days between, the Petaluma Police Department didn’t think enough of Sorensen’s initial allegations to warn the community of the would-be kidnappers that allegedly stalked Sorensen and her two children Dec. 7, 2020, throughout the Michaels craft store and parking lot on North McDowell Boulevard.

But as Sorensen’s Dec. 13 video gained traction, reaching 4 million views and drawing national media attention, police issued a Nixle alert, complete with a grainy photo of the suspects – Sadie and Eddie Martinez, the unwitting “kidnappers” who were shopping for a decorative baby Jesus for Christmas at the same Michaels store.

In the ensuing days, police not only acknowledged that their investigation found no evidence the Martinezes had sought to kidnap Sorensen’s children, but in a follow-up Nixle they said the “evidence gathered has served to support the account provided by the couple from the store.”

But in the five months since the allegations rocked Petaluma and put a target on one of our local families, there has still been no public pronouncement about that family’s innocence, and an effort to seek accountability for what many view as a racially motivated false report remains stalled at the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.

A phone message and an email left with that office were not returned this week, an unfortunate but fitting development that speaks to one of our overarching concerns in this case: There must be more transparency and communication about this high-profile, highly sensitive investigation.

In their first media interview since finding themselves at the center of a whirlwind of unwanted attention, the Martinezes said they still feel eyes on them in public.

“People definitely recognize us now,” Sadie told Argus-Courier reporter Kathryn Palmer. “Once you live through something like this, you think everyone is looking at you and judging you. It’s uncomfortable.”

But while Sadie and Eddie have had to live this reality since being thrust into a national spotlight five months ago, the other parties involved have gone about their business.

Sorensen, who deleted her videos Dec. 14 after police noted inconsistencies in her story, changed her social media account settings to “private,” but not before her mom-centric Instagram account shot up to nearly 80,000 followers from roughly 6,000 as a result of the attention.

The Petaluma Police Department took down the photo of Sadie and Eddie, explaining in an email Wednesday that the photo and post were no longer needed after the pair were identified and interviewed.

“Our approach to this case was very careful as to not make any premature conclusions without supporting evidence for those findings,” Deputy Chief Brian Miller said in an email Wednesday. “That process…was thoughtful, thorough, and communicated to all involved parties.”

But police haven’t yet clearly explained the inconsistencies between Sorensen’s Dec. 7 statements at Petaluma Police headquarters and her lengthy Instagram videos a week later, when a still-shaken Sorensen shared the story from the front seat of her car.

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Miller said Sorensen hadn’t initially alleged the couple tried to kidnap her children, just that they followed her around the store.

The District Attorney’s Office hasn’t so much as acknowledged that it’s reviewing the matter, let alone whether it is considering filing charges in the case, which was handed over by the Petaluma Police in the weeks following the incident.

In many cases, this approach might work fine. Our local police department responds to dozens of calls each day. District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s office handles thousands of cases each year. But our communities of color have seen their faith in law enforcement shaken, both nationally and locally. The first step in rebuilding trust must come from transparency, especially in cases like this.

We don’t know if Sorensen legitimately feared for her children’s safety that Monday morning at Michaels. We don’t know if her decision to post a video was an effort to gain sympathy and support, boost her follower count or truly raise awareness about an issue she found concerning enough to warrant a police report. But we know she told police the week before that she didn’t want to pursue charges. We know the video and police report don’t match.

And we know this: A local family has been forever tainted by allegations police say cannot be proven. We know these parents can’t hide from this episode. And we know our public institutions shouldn’t either.

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