I wrote Defamers: How Fake News Terrorized a Community & Those Who Dared to Fight It with the expectation that CalCoastNews was an anomaly we could eventually move past from. But I wouldn’t have imagined, in my wildest dreams, that I would be eulogizing someone who was a target of their harassment for almost a decade more than a year after publishing my book.
There’s a lot I don’t know about the circumstances surrounding former SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill’s death. It would be a disservice to him and his loved ones to speculate. I am familiar with the FBI investigating him and the recent workplace misconduct complaint filed against him. Whether or not these factors played a role in his death, I don’t know.
What I do know is the extent of how his death was spun in ways that were demonstrably tasteless. CalCoastNews initially reported Hill’s death as a suspected suicide by gunshot wound, a false claim they walked back with a half-hearted “clarification.” If you get your facts wrong, it’s not a clarification.
They followed up their false claim by publishing a photo that showed Hill’s body being taken out of the home by the coroner in an op-ed discussing a legal theory for filling the supervisor’s now-vacant seat. The photo, which was published without source attribution, was taken by CalCoastNews contributor Kevin P. Rice, according to witnesses. Rice had posted a similar photo on his Facebook profile, calling him an “abusive manipulating bully, liar, and bribe taker.” He added to his litany of names to describe Hill, “The short yellow body bag fits.” The publishing of these photos drew sharp criticism from residents and readers who were vocal in opposition to his politics and conduct. The website has refused to take the photo down.
Rice has a long and storied history of making false claims about Hill and stalking the supervisor on several occasions, whether it’s trespassing on his home to hand-deliver legal threats (Rice is not a registered or bonded process server with the county) or following the supervisor throughout town. Last year, Rice was the mastermind behind a controversial robocall that claimed “the Daughters of the Hero’s Cross KKK” endorsed Hill’s re-election while making homophobic…