Philadelphia Shuts Down Witness Intimidation Website
An anonymous Instagram account aiming to “expose rats” in Philadelphia has been shut down just days after police discovered it. The rats in question are not rodents, but witnesses to crimes, leading local prosecutors to investigate the site as a form of witness intimidation via online social networking. After Instagram closed the account for posting “content that bullies or harasses,” authorities claimed they’ve identified a 17-year-old who they think is behind the account.
The account, called rats215, exposed more than 30 witnesses from February to early November, posting photos, police statements, and testimony—much of it taken from proceedings that were supposed to be secret. In one case, rats215 posted evidence and pictures of a shooting victim who had testified before a secret grand jury, and once posted a photo that seemed to have been taken while a witness was testifying in court—where cameras are not allowed.
Although the account-holder regularly asked followers to submit evidence about suspected “rats,” authorities do not know how so much supposedly secret witness testimony was exposed, nor do they know how many witnesses were successfully intimidated because of the site. Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the D.A.’s office, wrote in an email that “We work with Philadelphia Police to investigate vigorously and thoroughly any attempt to intimidate any witness.…[which] continues to be a very serious, ongoing problem in the city of Philadelphia. We know that witness intimidation happens every single day at the [Criminal Justice Center].”
Updated almost daily for nearly 7,900 followers, the site evoked hundreds of comments and “likes” from readers, some of whom advocated violence against witnesses. “Post some new rats,” wrote one commenter in September, “I needa put a hit out on them.” Another post voiced kind words for Kaboni Savage, a Philadelphia drug dealer sentenced to death in June for 12 murders, including 6 in retaliation for a witness’ cooperation with the FBI. “We will get at you in time,” warned that post.
Lt. John Walker of the Philadelphia Police said: “These actions shoot an arrow through the heart of the criminal justice system, placing victims and witnesses at risk. [Accounts like rats215] should be voluntarily removed by the host of such sites.”
To Learn More:
Police Probe Website Targeting Crime Witnesses (by Aubrey Whelan and Mike Newall, Philadelphia Inquirer)
‘Rats215’ Instagram Account Deactivated (by William Bender, Philadelphia Daily News)
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