In spring 2009, the Tribune reporting staff and I were introduced to Nerey. We were working on a special report about gang activities in the region. Upon connecting with him as a source, Nerey was a personality to be reckoned with. Without even asking a question, Nerey would expound endlessly on his experiences in the Reno area with gangs when he was a youth, his time spent in prison on charges stemming from a drive-by shooting — the city’s first, according to him — and his current efforts to steer young people away from gangs. It took a lot of effort to wrestle control of interviews away from him.
That is not to say he was not a useful source. He brought to us many current gang members and young people at risk for joining a gang. His insight into the socio-economic factors contributing to gang membership were extremely helpful in understanding the issue. Nerey also was passionate about his mission, which helped spur our reporting onward in the face of an enormous task.
Such a dynamic and multi-faceted person always stirs a variety of emotions in the people he meets. Although reporters are supposed to remain objective while reporting, we are still human. Among the Tribune staff, Nerey elicited compassion, admiration, skepticism and wonder. Here was a man who had grown up in a gang-infested environment, gone to prison for his “homies,” been released, returned to his hometown and re-entered the same environment but with a mission to turn others from the life he led. It is commendable to help others avoid one’s own mistakes, but how can one avoid falling back into the pattern in the process?
That is the question raised by his arrest last week for allegedly selling methamphetamine. Word of this spread through our newsroom like an earthquake. The reactions were everything from shock to validation. There was a sense of betrayal given the message he sold so forcefully, but there was also a sense that this proves he was full of hot air.
But wait: In our great land, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. One of our first thoughts as reporters was to try and get an interview with Nerey in jail. Before we could get to it, our competitor got to him first so I have only their reporting of his words to go on. Nerey professed his innocence, saying he was “set up” by a new acquaintance. He also said there was a drug sale that took place in his home in his presence, the likely source of one of the charges against him.
You think!? “Guilt by association” is a phrase often used to try and proclaim innocence, but I have a feeling it is used just as often by the guilty to cover their backsides. I have no evidence to either convict or acquit Nerey, but given what I thought I knew of him I am surprised he allowed such a sale to take place in his presence, much less in his home.
But then maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. If a guy is struggling to pay his bills, as he said he was in the interview, and an easy opportunity arises to make money, why not? Nerey told us many times that’s how it happens in the gang world.
Then again, in working with people who are involved in that life, I also can see how he might be accused of something because he is in the middle trying to root out the problem from the inside. In the video posted with his interview, he portrays a strong exterior of innocence but some parts of his story sound like he’s trying to talk his way out of his situation, rather than prove his story.
In the days to come we’ll find out if the evidence warrants a trial. If he truly was rehabilitated from his days as a gang-banger 20 years ago and now is innocent, I will feel badly that he has to go through this process again. If the charges stand and he did get back into the fray despite all his talk, I will never look at so-called reformed gang members the same way again.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare for my reality check.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.