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by Linda Sharps
Do you remember the story about the Facebook page run by a police chief from Ohio in which he referred to criminals as "mopes"? The Brimfield Police Department's Facebook page is now one of the most-liked local police pages in the country thanks in part to those snarky crime narratives, and I thought the whole thing seemed like a legitimately funny and engaging use of social media.
There's another story about police from a small town using Facebook to shame criminals in a lighthearted manner, but the outcome is far less humorous. A sheriff's office in Idaho recently published a sarcastic Facebook post about a 19-year-old man named Andrew Cain ... and a few days later, Cain took his own life.
According to multiple reports, last Thursday the Latah County Sheriff's Office in Idaho posted a photo of 19-year-old Pullman, WA resident Andrew Cain along with a message that read, “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!"
On Sunday, Cain committed suicide.
Cain's sister Alise Smith says she doesn't hold the sheriff's office responsible for Cain's death, but she did call the post “childish.” She also says a deputy contacted her brother via private message, telling Cain that if he turned himself in, he could get a copy of his wanted poster.
That's what was upsetting was that they were privately messaging him and harassing him. (...) Those are the people protecting us, that is just not right.
Smith says strangers began sending her brother online messages after the Facebook post, and that it may have become too much for him:
It's like he couldn't escape it for five minutes cause everyone around him shared it and was bringing it up.
Boy, I'm just not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, the only person responsible for Andrew Cain's suicide is Andrew Cain. I don't think the sheriff's office can be blamed for his actions in any way. Plus, it's long been a practice of law departments to post public information about wanted individuals, including photos.
On the other hand, I feel like they did act unprofessionally by editorializing the wanted poster and teasing him via private message. To me that crosses a line the Brimfield Police Department's Facebook page is careful to steer clear of (they don't use photos or names when they joke about their "mopes").
And honestly, it really doesn't sound like Cain had even done anything THAT villainous. Of his three warrants, one was for driving without privileges and the other for possession of a controlled substance. I mean, maybe the third was aggravated murder or something, but so far I'm not sure he deserved the snarky "Congratulations!" for being "Wanted Person of the Month."
At any rate, it's awful that Cain made the choice he did. I wonder if the Latah County Sheriff's Office will rethink their social media policies now?
Do you think this police department crossed a line with the Facebook poster caption and subsequent private message teasing?