Evidence on social media creates new world for justice (+video)
Investigators in the Ohio rape case confiscated electronic devices from those involved. Evidence from social media allows jurors to rely more on common sense and less on expert testimony.
by Mark Guarino
Young people's use of social media and mobile technologies to document every facet and event in their lives, including violent and criminal behavior, has drawn national attention to the investigation into an alleged rape of a teenage girl in Ohio.
Not only are the social media being used in support of the pending legal arguments for both the alleged victim and the defendants, but this case and others are creating the potential for a whole new courtroom dynamic between the prosecution, defense, and jury.
Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays, two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, are charged with raping a 16-year-old girl at two separate parties in August. The names of both suspects, who are juveniles, are being used because a court judge, defense attorneys, and local media made their names public.
The state attorney general's office, which is handling the case, says both boys participated in raping the girl, who remains unnamed because she is a victim, while she was unconscious. Mr. Mays is also charged with the “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”
Two days after the alleged attacks was reported to law enforcement, local police confiscated about a dozen electronic devices belonging to all of the individuals involved. The devices were then turned over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation , which reviewed tens of thousands of e-mails, texts, and photos. Mays and Mr. Richmond were arrested three days later. They are currently under house arrest.
Prosecutors say a photo taken at the party shows both boys holding the alleged victim by her arms and legs, suggesting her unconscious state. Defense attorneys deny she was unconscious, and claim to have a text message from the girl sent to their client that says, “I know you didn't rape me.”
Also circulating are text messages posted to some social networks that reference that the rape happened, while the New York Times reports that a second photo snapped by a mobile phone shows the girl naked on a floor. Adding to the digital evidence is a video published online by Anonymous, the international hacker activist group, showing a group of students joking about the assault.
“Is it really rape because you don't know if she wanted to or not? … She might have wanted to. That might have been her final wish,” one teenager is shown saying, according to CNN.
Local police say they are also tracking a possible video that is purported to show both boys participating in the violent attack.
The role social media plays in violent crimes is a relatively recent phenomenon dating back to the popularity of so-called “flash mobs,” which are public events involving group action that are planned and then executed using social media.
In some high-profile cases, the flash mobs have been used by gangs of youths to carry out the group beatings of strangers. On Sunday, a flash mob was blamed for a riot that broke out in Baton Rouge, La., where 200 teenagers engaged in a fight, causing the mall to be evacuated.
Law enforcement is also increasingly perusing social media sites to learn more about gang activity and get a better sense of when retaliation among certain groups will strike. For example, last year, police departments in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia announced units to investigate social media behavior among gang factions, which often use mobile technology to plan, and later brag about, violent acts related to turf battles.
In Chicago, the strategy was used to investigate Keith Cozart, a rap star known as Chief Keef, who bragged on Twitter after a rival was gunned down in September. Mr. Cozart was also known for YouTube clips in which he mocked the slain victim.
Another local rapper named Lil Reese, whose real name is Tavares Taylor, came under scrutiny in October following the release of an online video to multiple hip-hop sites that show him severely beating an unidentified woman at a party. He was not charged because the woman could not be identified.
Paul Levinson, who teaches communications and media studies at Fordham University in the Bronx, says the motivation to document violence is “old-fashioned bragging.”
“When your morality is so degraded that you do these thing in the first place, whether it's beating somebody up or, even worse, raping someone, the appeal for some people is, as a part of that process, to proclaim to the world you did that and have documentation,” Mr. Levinson says.
He cautions against blaming the technology itself, but says that the rapid ease of taking videos and interacting with others is merely enabling certain people to capitalize on their darker predispositions.
“What that suggests is there are some people who unfortunately have violent tendencies, but, to them, it seems a good thing and so that's why there's almost this compulsion to make a recording of it to get it out,” he adds.
Indeed, the rise in school bullying has also been attributed to the increased proliferation of social media. According to a report published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in November 2011, 88 percent of teenagers using social networks have witnessed others being mean and cruel on social network sites. The incidents can then lead to physical altercations.
In the Ohio case, no physical evidence of the alleged rape exists, which means the looming court battle, scheduled for Feb. 13, will focus strictly on the interpretation of the media evidence.
The dynamic is creating a “whole new world” in the criminal justice system, says Lisa Smith, an attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases and who teaches law at Brooklyn Law School. Unlike traditional cases involving DNA, or other science-based evidence, where one side might rely on the testimony of a medical professional to guide the jury through their interpretation of a certain theory, cases involving text messages, mobile videos, and Facebook and Twitter postings as evidence hang on the direct values and behaviors of the jurors themselves.
“The average juror has no way to know which cardiologist is telling the truth,” she says. “But when it comes to Facebook and photos and text messages, they are going to use their own common sense and make judgments based on their own personal experience.”
Today investigators are trained to immediately seek out any digital evidence left behind on phones, tablets, and personal computers, and attorneys are now prepared to argue cases based on the interpretation of those messages and images, Ms. Smith says. What can be recovered can be conversations related to the planning of the crime, the post-discussion of the crime, or video or photo evidence of the crime itself.
Why this is an emerging trend has to do with the relative age of those involved: usually those of the Millennial generation or younger who have grown up with digital media and are conditioned to record and transmit most aspects of their lives – even if those details are criminal.
“In almost every case I've seen in the last year involving young people, there's been some kind of documentation of the incident,” Smith says.
“This is what they do all day long and it doesn't make any difference with the substance of they're documenting,” she adds. “There is no thought process. You have to think of it as automatic, regardless of what they document, as it is to breathe. There is no judgment.”
Texas / Ohio
Hundreds of Texas, Ohio teachers flock to gun training
by Kim Palmer and Jim Forsyth
CLEVELAND / SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - School teachers in Texas are flocking to free firearms classes and hundreds more in Ohio have signed up for training in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school massacre, some vowing to protect their students with guns even at the risk of losing their jobs.
In Ohio, more than 900 teachers, administrators and school employees signed up for the Buckeye Firearms Association 's newly created, three-day gun training program, the association said.
In Texas, an $85 Concealed Handgun License course offered at no cost to teachers filled 400 spots immediately, forcing the school to offer another class, one instructor said. The two Texas classes graduated about 460 educators.
"Any teacher who is licensed and chooses to be armed should be able to be armed," said Gerald Valentino , co-founder of the Buckeye Firearms Association. "It should be every teacher's choice."
The December 14 tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, sparked a national debate about whether to arm teachers, prompting passionate arguments on both sides.
The deaths of 6- and 7-year-old school children led President Barack Obama to promise "meaningful action" to curtail gun violence, while the National Rifle Association has advocated arming teachers and placing trained guards in each of the country's 100,000 schools.
Ohio and Texas are not the first to offer no-cost arms training to teachers. Just days after the Connecticut mass murder, some 200 teachers in Utah underwent free instruction from gun activists.
Critics ridicule arming teachers as a foolhardy idea promoted by overzealous gun enthusiasts, saying it would only add danger to the classroom while distracting teachers from their job of educating children.
Some educators are resisting, saying their role is to teach, not act like police.
The Ohio Parent Teacher Association believes "schools must be completely gun free," Executive Director Sue Owen said.
"People who have the ability and a willingness to do that should carry guns, but that is not what we chose to do," said Rita Haecker, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, a union with 68,000 members.
Supporters say an armed teacher could have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook carried out by a 20-year-old man armed with a military-style assault rifle who killed himself after gunning down the children and adults.
"What we know is that these spree killers are looking for the highest death toll possible. They look for no-gun zones like schools," Valentino said. "It doesn't make sense that we guard our gold with guns and we guard our kids with hope."
The Buckeye Firearms Association, which successfully lobbied for 2004 legislation allowing people to carry concealed handguns, is offering all eligible state educators free admission to what it calls "an intensive three-day class where you will learn many of the same skills and tactics used by first responders."
Of the more than 900 applicants so far, 73 percent were teachers and 10 percent were kindergarten teachers, Valentino said. Sixty percent were male and 51 percent worked in high schools, he said.
GUNS AND THE LAW
Ohio law does not expressly prohibit guns in schools and leaves it to each individual school board to set policy. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine referred to teachers as "first responders" after the Connecticut shootings and announced his office would expand safety training for Ohio school employees.
Texas state law allows teachers who have concealed handgun permits to carry weapons into public school classrooms as long as they have permission from the district superintendent.
Measures introduced in the Texas legislature since the Sandy Hook shooting would make it easier to carry firearms onto college campuses and into schools and other public places where weapons are now banned.
Josh Felker, who teaches the firearms classes in suburban San Antonio, said many of the teachers have told him they plan to carry weapons into their classrooms, even at risk of losing their jobs.
"They are upset at what happened, and no one is going to hurt their kids," said Felker, who offered the class to teachers for free over the holiday break. "One teacher said flat out, 'I don't care if the law changes or not, I'm going to take it to school.' Most of them just want to protect their kids."
On Thursday, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy will offer its first "Active Shooter Training Response for Educators Course," which up to now has been reserved for police officers.
One Texas superintendent who since 2008 has given permission to teachers with handgun licenses to carry a gun in school is David Thweatt, who heads the rural Harrold Independent School District, about 175 miles northwest of Dallas.
"First they have to have a concealed handgun license, they have to be approved to carry on our campus, they have to undergo additional training, and they are limited to ammunition which breaks apart when it hits a hard object," Thweatt said.
He said he decided to allow teachers to carry weapons in class because in his rural district "law enforcement would never make it here on time" in case of an emergency.
Although the names of teachers who carry weapons were meant to remain confidential, their identities were widely known in town, Thweatt said. Three Texas teachers told Reuters of their intent to bear arms in school regardless of the rules but asked not to be identified.
Valentino was adamant that Ohio's armed teachers remain anonymous, citing concerns that local media might reveal who was taking the course. He has actively shielded the interested gun-training students from reporters.
"The idea is for no one to know what teachers might be carrying. It would be very dangerous to identify these teachers. We don't want to put a target on them," Valentino said.
Texas Republican State Representative Debbie Riddle has introduced a measure to require school boards and superintendents to give permission to teachers who have completed the concealed handgun licensing course to carry weapons into the classroom.
"It would have a chilling effect on any copycats who wanted to replicate what was done at Sandy Hook," Riddle said.
Chicago Looks To Community Policing To Reduce Violent Crime
by David Schaper
In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, there's been renewed talk of assault weapons bans and other gun control measures. But such legislation won't even be called for a vote in Illinois' state legislature this week, even though shootings and homicides have spiked in Chicago, topping 500 in the last year. So Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police department are renewing community policing in an effort to improve community relations and reduce violent crime.
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
While violent crime has been dropping in many big cities, the city of Chicago saw a sharp increase in killings in 2012. So Chicago is beginning the New Year with a new approach. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police department have unveiled what they call a revitalization of community policing. They're re-emphasizing cooperation between cops and residents in certain high-crime neighborhoods. And they made that announcement today as it became clear that the mayor's gun control efforts were falling flat in the state legislature. Here's NPR'S David Schaper in Chicago.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy stands over a long table, filled with high-capacity semiautomatic handguns, rifles with scopes, AR-15s and even an AK-47.
GARY MCCARTHY: Can you imagine facing that thing in an alleyway late at night - 7.62 rounds?
SCHAPER: McCarthy says all of these guns were confiscated by Chicago police officers just since the new year began.
MCCARTHY: By the way, this is only a snapshot of what we got last week: 180 guns, first six days. Believe it or not, it's actually down a little bit from last year.
SCHAPER: Through all of last year, McCarthy says his officers confiscated a record number of guns - more than 7,400. The vast majority, he says, were handguns and about 400 were assault rifles. McCarthy acknowledges that an assault weapons ban in Illinois would not do much to reduce gun violence on Chicago's streets.
MCCARTHY: So even an assault weapons ban has to go further.
SCHAPER: McCarthy says most guns used in shootings in Chicago are purchased legally initially, but then resold.
MCCARTHY: You go into a gun shop, you can purchase these firearms legally. What happens when you walk out the door, there's no accountability, and those guns end up illegally transferred on the streets in the hands of gangbangers.
SCHAPER: McCarthy says Illinois needs to require the reporting of every loss, theft or transfer of a firearm, as is required in many other states. He and Mayor Emanuel are also pushing for long mandatory minimum sentences when guns are involved, and closing the loophole that allows gun show purchases without background checks, in addition to an assault weapons ban and a limit on magazine clips.
But those issues aren't even on the table as the state legislature wraps up its lame-duck session today. So in a city that recorded 506 homicides in 2012, the highest number in four years, Chicago is seeking other ways to boost crime fighting.
SCHAPER: Standing alongside Mayor Emanuel, other police officials and community leaders in a south side police station, Superintendent McCarthy announced that his department will overhaul its community policing efforts.
MCCARTHY: No component or facet of this strategy is more important than engagement and community trust. A strong partnership with the community is a force multiplier.
SCHAPER: Relations between Chicago police officers and residents of many communities, especially in high-crime African-American and Latino neighborhoods, have long been strained. Residents often complain of an us-against-them attitude and point to past incidents of abuse. McCarthy, the former police chief in Newark, acknowledges that Chicago police are still being punished for incidents that happened long ago.
MCCARTHY: The fact is I can't fix that. What I can do is focus on the behavior of our officers today.
SCHAPER: And this new community policing strategy aims to do just that.
ART LURIGIO: Community policing is not just about doing traditional cops and robbers kind of policing.
SCHAPER: That's Art Lurigio, a criminologist at Loyola University of Chicago, who helped develop the city's first community policing program 20 years ago. He praises the new effort, especially the training of all Chicago police officers, to better engage, interact with and respect residents.
LURIGIO: All community policing models have at their core putting the police closer to residents. Like politics, all policing is local.
SCHAPER: But Lurigio cautions that efforts such as these often take time to pay off, and Chicagoans shouldn't expect a sudden decrease in shootings just because police are taking this new approach to crime. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
McCarthy may turn to celebrities to help combat police mistrust
by John Byrne
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Tuesday he's considering turning to celebrities like Bulls star Derrick Rose to try to persuade residents to break a "no-snitch" custom that often impedes shooting investigations.
McCarthy said he has "spoken to a number of (celebrities) and they're all very interested" in becoming spokespeople for a campaign to persuade Chicagoans to cooperate with police. He would not give names, but did say that Rose, who grew up in crime-plagued Englewood before achieving NBA fame, is the type of star who might be able to get through to young Chicagoans.
Coming off a year in which Chicago saw homicides jump 16 percent to 506, McCarthy said he's trying to figure out how to get through to people. A Tribune investigation in August found that Chicago police had suspended nearly 80 percent of their investigations into nonfatal shootings through the first seven months of 2012 because victims wouldn't cooperate.
It's not the first time in recent months that the Police Department has brought in outside voices in an effort to curb violence. City officials gave a $1 million grant last year to CeaseFire, an organization that uses ex-felons to mediate gang disputes. McCarthy has been critical of CeaseFire, saying the group undermines police. On Tuesday he was more supportive of the idea of using celebrities.
"Who is it that these kids would listen to? It's not going to be Garry McCarthy. Maybe it will be Derrick Rose, I don't know," McCarthy said. "This is all under examination. It's something that we're looking to develop. It's not off the ground yet."
The superintendent acknowledged Tuesday that part of the reluctance to share information about crimes can be traced to mistrust stemming from incidents like the infamous cases of torture by former Cmdr. Jon Burge. He said many of the high-profile police abuse cases happened before he got here, and said he's working to improve accountability.
"We have gotten black eyes recently based on incidents that happened long before we got here," he said. "Early in the '90s, you name the scandal, they're all coming to fruition now. The fact is, I can't fix that. I can't go back and change what happened with Jon Burge. But what I can do is focus on the behavior of our officers today."
Asked about a recent $99,000 settlement the city reached with a man who claimed he was wrongly arrested by Chicago police in 2010 on charges of selling heroin, McCarthy said he wasn't prepared to say police acted improperly in that instance. But he said it's important to have strong disciplinary standards to try to ensure that officers behave on the job.
The superintendent was with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the Grand Crossing police station to give an update on changes to the community policing program.
Community policing poised to return to Marlborough in spring
by Kendall Hatch
Police Chief Mark Leonard said on Tuesday that he hopes to be able to bring back the community policing program, put on hold last summer, back in the coming months.
Leonard said he is aiming for a return of the program, which is well-liked by community leaders in the French Hill neighborhood, by late March or early April.
Leonard temporarily canned the program in August, as staffing levels at the department dropped amid several injuries and retirements.
Leonard said a few people have come back from injuries and said that there are two new officers in the department with a few more starting within the next few months.
"We're starting to get some people back on board," Leonard said Tuesday. "We're really looking at a March time frame."
When Leonard suspended the program in the summer, officers Tony Evangelous and Borden Wicks, who were previously on foot and bike beats in the downtown and French Hill areas, were dropped back into the regular patrol rotation.
Leonard said 2012 saw a high number of injuries in the department, with 16 officers having to take time off for injuries.
He said the department now has five officers out on injured leave, with three of them expected to be long term. He said he expects the other two back in the coming months, but is also anticipating that two officers will be taking time off soon for scheduled medical procedures.
Leonard said two officers, Scott Carey and Paul McCarthy, have already started at the department on the midnight shift, filling two vacancies. Another soon-to-be officer, Rafael Faria, has graduated the police academy and is in field training. Christopher Bradley is currently at the police academy and will graduate this month before going to field training. Leonard said another two candidates have been lined up to fill coming vacancies.
Leonard said downtown residents valued the community policing officers and said he is glad that, barring unforeseen injuries, they will be back on the street.
"I know they were missed in those areas," he said. Leonard said the department has tried to fill in the hole left by the program by having the officers facilitate a few neighborhood meetings and respond to issues when they come up, but he said it's better to have the officers be a consistent presence there.