Your parents probably told you never to talk to strangers. Fourteen Brooklyn gang members learned that lesson the hard way—and now they’re facing hard time in prison.
New York City Police Officer Michael Rodrigues got a tip that the Brower Boys gang members might be responsible for a year-long rash of burglaries in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. As the saying goes, you have to think like a criminal to catch a criminal. These criminals included a bunch of 18-year-old boys, so Officer Rodrigues turned to every teen’s favorite online hangout—Facebook—and sent friend requests to many of the suspects.
Fortunately for Officer Rodrigues, some of the suspects were dumb enough to accept the request, granting him access to their online world. And what a world it was: One where they talked about the next break in, divvied up the loot and posted pictures with their weapons.
Brooklyn police quietly gathered information then staked out potential crime scenes they identified through Facebook chatter. Writes the New York Post: “In one police surveillance video from March, alleged gang member Olurabu ‘Sleepy’ Henry can be seen in broad daylight as he carries a backpack out a window and onto a rooftop, where cops were waiting for him — having been alerted through the Facebook posts.”
In all, the police nabbed 14 gang members thanks to information gleaned from Facebook postings.
“They signed off on their messages with LOL—laughing out loud,” New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said when announcing the arrests. “Well, there was a person who was laughing out loud. That was Police Officer Michael Rodrigues of the 77th Precinct.”
It may be dumb, but what happened to the Brower Boys isn’t unique. Illinois criminal defense lawyer David L. Freidberg says he’s represented clients whose online comments have also gotten them in trouble.
“Making an admission of any sort is a bad move,” Freidberg says. “I’ve had clients recently who have done just this, making admissions, bragging to their other Facebook friends about their conquests. ‘Hey man, just pulled a lick over on 95th Street!’ And even though they’re using their street name, people know who they are.”
Freidberg says it’s tough—but not impossible—to represent clients who have admitted to crimes online.
“It’s not easy for the state to get Facebook posts admitted as evidence in court,” Freidberg says. “It’s very difficult to authenticate a Facebook post, and unless it’s authenticated, it’s hearsay in most if not all jurisdictions.”
That said, Freidberg still advises his clients against bragging about their crimes online.
“Don’t be fooled by your alleged anonymity on Facebook,” he says. “People know who you are and your ‘friends’ on Facebook might be contacted by a cop to take a statement or find out who you really are. Also, Facebook posts are possibly subject to discovery by the state, so you should avoid posting anything on Facebook that could be used against you in any forum. The same rule of thumb applies to Twitter or any social networking site.”