Posts circulating on Facebook that feature a photograph of a four-year-old child with a badly bruised face, claim the injuries were caused by the ex-boyfriend of the child’s mother. The message includes the name and description of the alleged attacker and urges people to help locate and identify the man so that he can be apprehended by the police.
Walker Police Department has now published the following message on their Facebook Page:
Friends: On Monday of this week, following our investigation of child cruelty allegations, we obtained a warrant for the arrest of Dusty Wes Edwards (32) of Ferriday, Louisiana. At our request, Edwards was arrested this morning by the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office. Edwards will remain in jail until tomorrow, at which time Walker Police officers will take him into custody and return him to Livingston Parish, where he will be booked into the Livingston Parish Detention Center on charges of Second Degree Cruelty to a Juvenile. Thank you all for your comments and concerns over the last several days regarding this matter.
Thus, the continued circulation of the message will do no good and may jeopardize further investigation and prosecution of the case.
The exact circumstances of the case described are currently unclear. At this point, the allegations made in the messages have NOT been confirmed by police. What is clear is that this sort of Facebook-driven vigilantism is unlikely to help either the child and her family or any investigations the police may be pursuing. Trial by Facebook is inappropriate, unethical and unhelpful. Before sending on one of these messages, please consider the following points and review the below statement from the Walker Police Department.
- If the claims are true, the circulating posts do nothing to help the police in their investigation and, in fact, could actually compromise any such investigation. The successful prosecution of an alleged suspect could be rendered difficult or impossible.
- True or not, the posts do little but encourage possible vigilantism – again which could have the effect of compromising any investigation and compromising the successful prosecution of an alleged suspect.
- If false, the allegations made could be prosecutable offences.
In response to the rapidly widening Facebook campaign, the Walker Police Department issued the following statement on the matter:
Many people have inquired about the content of a Facebook page created over the weekend alleging that a young child was the subject of an act of child abuse. The person who created the Facebook page, who is obviously neither the parent nor guardian of the alleged victim, included among the information posted the name and age of the alleged victim and photo’s that purport to show injuries to the alleged victim. In the Facebook post, readers are told that the Walker Police Department is working on the case. The Facebook post goes on to identify the alleged suspect, including the alleged suspect’s name, photograph, vehicle description, and possible location and/or destination. The Facebook posts ask that readers “Share” the Facebook postings and urge the public to help law enforcement to locate the alleged suspect. In another post, the Facebook page creator explains that the alleged suspect plans to surrender to authorities, and says that the Page creator has urged the mother of the alleged victim to “come here and answer everyone’s questions” (presumably on the Facebook page) and to provide other information including “contact info for the police and the police report number.”
Understandably, the story has created concern among many who saw it. It has also prompted a significant number of inquiries to the Walker Police Department, both by telephone and through posts to our Facebook Page. Many such inquiries simply want to know if the information is true, while others want more details. At least one post expresses concern that the alleged suspect’s life is now in danger because of the people looking for the suspect.
As many of you are aware, law enforcement agencies are prohibited from releasing the names of minor children who have been the subject of child abuse or any other crimes. Law enforcement agencies would certainly not publish photographs of an injured child. Ordinarily, when asked to comment about an incident in which a child has been injured, abused or is the victim of a crime, law enforcement agencies are able to acknowledge that an investigation is underway and explain that because the alleged victim is a minor, the child’s name and other personal information cannot be made public. In addition, details of such an alleged crime would not be released in order to avoid compromising the investigation.
With respect to an incident like the one described on the referenced Facebook page, the extensive details, photographs and other information included on the Facebook page which purport to be true are such that any law enforcement agency handling such a case could not comment on such information, confirm than an investigation is underway or even acknowledge that such an incident has been alleged to have occurred. Such comments or acknowledgments could confirm all or a part of the information posted and thereby violate the protections afforded to minor children under the law. Equally problematic is the possibility that an investigation into such allegations could be compromised and the successful prosecution of an alleged suspect could be rendered difficult or impossible.
Thank you all for your questions and concerns.
Article written by David M. White and Brett M. Christensen