In this blog we talk about how the influence or threat to court witnesses and / or informants can be gamechanging. We haven’t seen much of these cases yet, but maybe this happens more than we know.
In Philadelphia, the police pulled a 17 year old student Nasheen Anderson of Martin Luther King High School from his class. He was charged with intimidating a crime?witness. Police say he posted pictures of secret evidence and documents of the jury judges on his Twitter page. Investigators have tried to determine whether Nasheen Anderson was the one posting from the anonymous Instagram account (accountname “rat 215”) that exposed more than 30 witnesses of various crimes in the city, before Instagram shut the account.
The Prosecution stated that this boy was going to be trailed as an adult “I do not care how old you are, if you are intimidate a witness in this town, you will have to deal with me,” said prosecutor Seth Williams firmly. Anderson’s behaviour on social media was noticed when a policeman was looking for pictures of the victim on Twitter. He found a picture on the account of Anderson in addition to the police statements from this victim. The statements were not made ??public and are normally part of a secret “grand jury” procedure, a process that is meant to prevent witness intimidation.
“The actions of these teens could have major implications for many things here in Philadelphia,” Williams added. “These seem very serious forms of harassment and we will act upon it vigorously.”
Anderson’s Twitter account also mentioned police reports about a shooting. He commented the post with: “Expose All rats”. About 10 days later, the same messages appeared on Instagram. For months dozens of crime witnesses were identified and exposed by posting photos, police statements and testimonies. Anderson’s mother, who declined to give her real name, answerd some questions at her home. She described her son as a “good guy” and said he was not in any trouble. She talked about him wanting to join the army after graduating.
Police spokeswoman Tanya Little?says that it is still unclear whether Anderson will be trialed as a juvenile or an adult. Police have issued a warrant for Instagram to force them to share the identity of the account holder. According to police, Anderson knew the suspect in the attempted murder of a 19-year-old man from South West Philadelphia, because he had testified himself in the case.
Politiewoordvoerster?Tanya Little vertelt dat het nog onduidelijk is of hij zou worden voorgeleid als minderjarige of een volwassene.?De politie heeft een arrestatiebevel uitgevaardigd om Instagram te dwingen de identiteit van de rekeninghouder te geven. Volgens de politie kende Anderson de verdachte van de poging tot doodslag van de 19 -jarige man uit Southwest Philadelphia, omdat hij eerder in een moordzaak had getuigd.
Take a look at the?videoreport?about this case.
Lawyers are allowed to give their customers access to witness statements, which is also mentioned in the constitution. But in “Grand Jury” cases lawyers are instructed not to give their customers any ?copies of those statements. An official, with some knowledge of the case, said evidence from the grand jury case was shared ??publicly after a series of mistakes by both a prosecutor and a lawyer. Witness statements are used in court documents and to be used by the judge and jury, but the names of witnesses and victims are?redacted. Still, in the online copies of these cases the names and even photos are clearly mentioned. Police say they are still unsure how Anderson could have received this type of information.
The Instagram account was updated daily and every new post got dozens of spikey responses and comments towards crime witnesses in general. Rewards were even promised to kill those witnesses. In one comment someone even complimented Kaboni Savage – a notorious drug lord from North Philadelphia who was sentenced to death in June for 12 murders and a firebomb in which four children and two women were killed. According to this poster the firebomb was a retaliation for a witness who cooperated with the FBI.
And the Anderson case is not the first one. Also in another cases threatening eye witnesses online has gone wrong. A previous crime witness from Philadelphia was forced to move after material was posted on a website in which criminal informants were exposed.
Experienced law enforcement officers and prosecutors gave some examples from the past where things went bad. Victim statements were posted in barbershops, posted on bulletin boards in the neighborhood or even mailed to witnesses. The big difference with social media now is that millions of people can see these statements. Victims and witnesses are in even more danger because of this. As online witness intimidation increased in recent years, it makes justice call for even more careful procedures in dealing with such documents.