This is a time for public restraint

Sometimes life takes sudden, unpleasant turns.

We’re experiencing that now with the sad news that a local community leader has been arrested.

Don Hopkins has been a prominent mover and shaker in the Holley and Sweet Home areas for decades. He has been principal of the junior high school. He has been chairman of the school board and is the president of the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Board of Directors, an organization he helped create. He has sat on the Sweet Home Economic Development Group Board of Directors. He’s been a college professor on the side.

He’s a man who has ideas and has carried through with them in the public arena.

Now he’s accused of a crime that some might find to be particularly objectionable, as it involves sexual activity with someone of the same gender.

The natural inclination for some may be to assume the worst and to purge Hopkins from public life as quickly as possible. After all, we’re a relatively small community and this hits pretty close to home.

That would be wrong, and we need to be careful.

Hopkins has been accused of committing a crime. He has not confessed to it, so far as we know, and although he declined to talk to us here at The New Era about the situation when we were able to reach him, he reportedly told another media outlet that he was not guilty.

This is where the American way gets put to the test.

Here in America, according to our laws, Hopkins is innocent until proven guilty. The fact that you can be accused of something should not be grounds for your immediate firing, removal, dismissal or whatever. As we remind readers in the gray box we frequently run alongside our report of the police log, the fact that you are arrested does not mean you are guilty. Guilt is only established by the court of law, not the court of public opinion or police action.

Sometimes it is prudent to curtail the activities of an accused person pending the outcome of their case. That is why, for instance, police officers are generally put on paid administrative leave when they are accused of criminal activity. You don’t really want someone accused of a crime enforcing the law. Teachers who are accused of certain misdeeds, including illegal sexual activity, are often also put on administrative leave for similar reasons.

Don Hopkins is none of these, at least locally. He helps make decisions that affect the fire and ambulance service available to local residents. He serves on budget committees. He makes decisions that affect local students’ schooling. He’s very involved, which makes this accusation so much more unsettling.

But it is still only an accusation, albeit one that the sheriff’s investigators decided warranted their making an arrest.

While this plays out, our community needs to be cautious about lashing out at Don Hopkins or his family. We need to be patient and wait. We expect the Sheriff’s Office to do due diligence in its investigation, and we expect the law to take its course if this case moves on.

When we know the final outcome, then it will be time to either be glad we held our tongues – and our proverbial nooses – or it will be time to dismiss Mr. Hopkins from his public activities and move on.