Until Monday, Brock Turner was represented in the media using not the mugshot befitting a convicted felon, but a headshot taken during his days as a Stanford swimmer. Whenever anyone reported on his sexual assault of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, they used a photo of his broadly smiling face under a head of neatly combed blonde hair, rather than a more disheveled image of Turner with the kind of bloodshot eyes a person gets when they are very, very drunk.
Why the disparity? Because the former was, for well over a year, the only photo available; the latter was only released on June 6. As the Washington Post reported, people displeased at what looks a lot like unfair misrepresentation of Turner, especially in the wake of the victim's court statement, can thank a breakdown in communication between law enforcement agencies.
The Stanford Department of Public Safety arrested Turner and took the below booking photo, originally released to Boing Boing.
The SDPS then handed the case over to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. As the Cut reported, the SDPS understands booking photo release to be among the sheriff's responsibilities, while the sheriff's department held that "it's the arresting agency's responsibility to decide whether or not to release the photo." The sheriff's department shared Turner's sentencing photo, below, with the Cut early Monday evening.
According to the Post, whether or not the sheriff's office will release a booking photo depends on whether or not that photo might "jeopardize the successful investigation and prosecution of the individual," and it will not publish photos of people arrested by other agencies. In this case, the issue seems more to be about reticence to "jeopardize" Turner's reputation.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky has attracted criticism for his light sentencing of Turner, whom he gave just six months in jail, despite the fact that a jury unanimously found him guilty on three separate sexual assault charges. As he explained at the sentencing hearing, Persky believed prison would have a "severe impact" on the 20-year-old, whose lack of a previous record and young age made him an unlikely repeat offender in Persky's estimation.
The handling of the Turner case has prompted a wave of Change.org petitions in support of the victim, some of which call for Persky to recuse himself. And certainly, it seems difficult to argue that his ruling wasn't biased. One wonders what kind of sentencing a young black man, for example, might have received in Turner's position.
The boy Persky sentenced: a star athlete at one of the country's best schools, smiling in a suit and tie. He deemed six months appropriate to the golden boy in the only picture available to the media, rather than the felon in the booking photo, and that's why the internet has Turner's case pegged as a victory for white male privilege — let them eat steak, in a nutshell.
Correction: June 7, 2016
A previous version of this story mischaracterized Brock Turner's conviction. Among other charges, he was convicted of assault with intent to commit rape.