Tuesday and Wednesday, Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake found himself in the eye of a 24-hour web media storm. Inside Edition, ABC News, NECN, and NPR were among the outlets that called following publication of a story Tuesday on the Fox News website.
“Secret Service agents partied like rock stars on Obamas’ Vineyard Vacation,” read the headline, labelled exclusive, by reporter Jana Winter.
“Long before President Obama’s security detail was scandalized in Colombia and new revelations emerged last week about the Secret Service, members of the elite team earned an ‘Animal House’ reputation at the blueblood vacation mecca of Martha’s Vineyard.”
References to Obama, Secret Service, Animal House, Martha’s Vineyard in one lead paragraph in a web-based story was akin to throwing a whole chicken into a Florida alligator farm pen. The story reappeared in web media outlets and on morning news show tickers from New York to London.
“Alcohol-fuelled Secret Service party’ busted by police in Martha’s Vineyard… just before Obama arrived for vacation,” read the headline in London’s Daily Mail.
Not so fast, Chief Blake said Wednesday. In a conversation with The Times, the veteran Oak Bluffs police officer said there was nothing unusual about the the complaint of a noisy party on August 18, 2011.
“It was the same type of noise complaint we handle hundreds of times a year,” Chief Blake said. “They were on the porch drinking and hanging out, and we said, ‘take it inside, you’re bothering neighbors, close your windows,’ and they did.”
Chief Blake said there were no calls for followup. He said other than the fact that the occupants were agents, there was nothing to distinguish that call from any of the many calls police respond to on a summer night in August.
The Fox News report said that according to local residents, who the report did not name, “wild parties, fights and late-night carousing involving Secret Service members have become commonplace in recent years at the Vineyard, a favorite getaway for the First Family and longtime destination for upper-crust members of the Northeastern political, media and business establishment.”
The story also quoted an unidentified woman who said she and her husband rented their house to the Secret Service and it was damaged by agents.
The listed poor behavior included a bullet dropped on the lawn of a rental house and a Secret Service badge dropped at the Offshore Ale House in Oak Bluffs.
“We have never arrested or detained any Secret Service agents, and we certainly haven’t been called to any homes for fights,” Mr. Blake said. “And if they did damage someone’s home, obviously the people who owned the home must have handled it as a civil matter because we did not hear about it or investigate it.”
The report of the lost badge is true, Chief Blake said. “Someone from the Secret Service did drop their badge.” It was found and returned and treated as a Secret Service matter.
The chief said that he never received a report of a found bullet.
As of Tuesday, Fox and several other news outlets had repeatedly called the Oak Bluffs police station seeking more information about the noisy party complaint, according to Chief Blake.
“None of the officers’ actions were anything out of the ordinary for a summer’s night on Martha’s Vineyard,” Chief Blake said. “The news channels are calling about that one report we have and that is what we have, one noise complaint in that location.”
Chief Blake said that standard procedure is to first ask people to quiet down. If police need to return to the same location, depending on the reaction of the occupants, police may issue a bylaw ticket.
“And if we end up coming back again, anytime, the owner or the renter of the house will be arrested for keeping a disorderly house and everyone else will be dispersed,” the chief said. “That’s how we handle it.”
Chief Blake said the notion that the police might have looked the other way when Secret Service agents acted up is not accurate. “By the end of August, whether it’s a presidential visit or anything else, by the end of August we don’t suffer fools very well. It is pretty much the end of the rope.”