Digital Underground: Cyber Thugs, Police, and Virtual Investigations (8 of 8)

Sadly, this is the last post of the series. Now we know that Facebook isn’t just for college students anymore. Police are using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more to catch unsuspecting criminals in the act. Although some police officers aren’t exactly ready to trade in “Old fashioned police work” for Facebook investigations, most agree social media sites are a valuable investigation tool.

Police departments use social media sites not only to investigate crimes, but also as a means to reach out to the community. They inform citizens of emergencies and even post pictures of wanted suspects or sexual predators in the community.  We’ve talked about police tracking down suspects in online games, and even finding suspects after seeing them “check-in” at a location. Social media sites are like a gold mine for police officers. Suspects continue to brag about their latest shenanigans, complete with pictures for evidence. All police have to do is patrol social media sites, until they find what they are looking for.

However, some citizens are concerned that allowing police to use social media sites to investigate crimes will violate privacy rights. But we’ve seen, that this is exactly what the police don’t want to do. Police departments all around the nation have established social media policies to ensure the rights of the citizens are protected. Even though every police officer may not follow the guidelines, most welcome the regulations.

But what happens when police officers, the very people we look to for help are the perpetrators?

A Washington teenager committed suicide after a local sheriff’s department published a sarcastic Facebook post about him.[1] The Idaho Sheriff’s Office posted a photo of 19-year-old Andrew Cain alongside a message saying,

“We have decided that Andrew Cain is no longer the Wanted Person of the Week… he is the Wanted Person of the Month of June. Congratulations!”[2] “A few days later, Cain took his own life.”[3] According to Cain’s sister, they were privately messaging Cain and harassing him. One message read: “If you turn yourself in, I’ll give you a copy of the wanted poster.”


A photo of Andrew Cain, 19, who killed himself Sunday after a local Sheriff’s Office posted his photo to Facebook alongside a sarcastic message saying he was the “most wanted person of the month.” (photo credit: KREM)

This is almost unbelievable. Police officers are supposed to use Facebook to help the citizens in their community, not harm them. What happens when police officers are given information from Facebook and the officers fail to investigate the reports?  Where can people turn when their cries for help go unanswered?

“My name is Matthew Cline. This will be my last post on ifunny as I will be committing suicide tonight.”[4]

Matthew Cline was a 17-year-old high school football player.[5] He posted the message on the social media site, iFunny, the night before he shot himself in the head at home with a gun belonging to his parents.[6]

Was this a cry for help? Did Matthew post this status hoping someone would come to his rescue? The world will never know, but we can only assume he did. His post didn’t go unnoticed. Another high school student, Ana Gutierrez, who was about 300 miles away from Matthew, saw his iFunny post and became concerned.[7] “She did some sleuthing and managed to locate his Facebook profile. To her surprise, he accepted her friend request immediately.” From there, she was able to discover where he lived and the school he attended.[8]  Then she did what anyone else seeing the post might have done: She called the police. She told them about the post and even emailed screen shots of his Facebook account.[9]

Guess what, not one police officer went to Matthew’s home to check on him. Officers even found the correct Matthew Cline on their database as well as his address and his father Bill Cline’s cell phone number.[10] Yet, no one was dispatched to the home. Here’s why: The police officer found another Matthew Cline in the same area. Yes, you read correctly. Not twenty, not ten, not even three, but one other person named Matthew Cline. Call me crazy, but I think Matthew’s life was worth more than the gas saved.

Matthew’s mother told the local news:

‘It was a failure by the adults. “That’s the saddest thing. A knock on the door and Matt would be alive. We could have got him help.”[11]

What did the officer have to say? He said, “We take threats of suicide very seriously … but it really comes down to, do we have a call for service and do we have a place to go? It’s a judgment call.”[12]

Matthew and mom

  • Cline’s parents claim that if police had followed up on the call, their son would still be alive

  • Matthew Cline shot himself in the head on July 17

  • The Clines have filed a claim against the city for negligence

Colorado police dropped the ball. But there’s still hope.

A New Jersey police officer’s prompt reaction saved this person’s life. A New Jersey college student about to be kicked out of his home, posted a picture of the George Washington Bridge with the words “I’m thinking of jumping” on his Facebook page.[13]

One of his Facebook friends saw the post and called the police.[14]

A police officer distributed a photo of the college student from his Facebook page to other officers — and also left a message on the teen’s Facebook page encouraging him to call him.[15] The teen actually called the police officer.


“He was a young kid in a really bad place. We talked about it for a while, and I told him about my troubles in college,” Then he told me he was in a bus (near the bridge), and we started talking about some of the stops coming up. And I convinced him to get off at one of the stops.”[16]

In case anyone was curious, Facebook has a help page on what to do about suicidal content. They encourage users to “Call the local authorities.” They also have a link for making reports. How to report suicidal content/threats on Facebook

[1] Hunter Stuart, Andrew Cain, 19, Commits Suicide After Sheriff’s Office Posts Sarcastic Facebook Message The Huffington Post (June 26,2013 6:09 PM)

[2] Hunter Stuart, Andrew Cain, 19, Commits Suicide After Sheriff’s Office Posts Sarcastic Facebook Message The Huffington Post (June 26,2013 6:09 PM)

[3] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11][11] Id.

[12] Alex Greig, Matthew Cline’s Parents Sue Police After They Failed To Follow Up Facebook Suicide Post, Colorado Newsday (November 19, 2013 at 3:24 AM)

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

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