The online message board postings read, at times, like a typical teenager attacking a classmate.It's been quite the trend in recent years for police to mine social media for information about defendants, but I haven't seen it used as often to allege police misconduct. That said, allowing such unfettered, anonymous carping by employees in a criminal justice setting can become corrosive and harmful. I know Grits shut down some TYC/juvenile justice strings because of exactly that type of unproductive, personal sniping against non-public figures, and it's unsurprising, if disappointing, that the online culture in some police departments isn't much better.
“She has an attitude problem and is all mouth,” wrote “Eskimo88” in one December post.
“SHES AN IDIOT,” he wrote in another, referring to the same person in a post the next day as “bat [expletive] crazy.”
But the posts weren’t made by an angry adolescent. They were published on a members-only local law enforcement message board, undergroundcop.com, by Dallas police Public Integrity Detective Jeff Baum, according to public records. He made the postings in reference to a since-fired officer whom Baum’s unit investigated for criminal misconduct.
The revelation that Baum is “Eskimo88” could threaten the credibility of pending criminal cases against former Sgt. Stormy Magiera, who is accused among other things of lying about a December Dallas robbery in which police believe she was trying to buy prescription drugs. And the case highlights a culture among some officers of gossip, rumor-mongering and personal attacks that can have career-threatening consequences in the Internet era.
“We are seeing people lose their careers over a posting on Facebook, whether it was about a crime that they went to or about another officer or about a citizen,” said Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement and Trainers Association.
Perhaps relatedly, the blog Liberty and Justice for Y'all has a post on a unanimous Court of Criminal Appeals ruling which confusingly seemed to adopt a three-pronged standard from a Maryland case for authenticating that online postings actually came from a specific individual and not just someone using their computer or posing as them. However, wrote B.W. Barnett, "While the State failed, in the Tienda case, to use any of the methods articulated by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the CCA nonetheless held, that based on the circumstantial indicia of authenticity, the State created a prima facie case that would justify submitting the ultimate question of authenticity to the jury." So the court invokes a standard, then fails to follow it, but allows the evidence in anyway, declaring those methods are not exclusive. That, my friends, is outcome-based jurisprudence: Pick the outcome you want then pull a reason out of thin air to justify it.
In any event, the Tienda case will make it easier to establish the identities of police officers on sites like undergroundcop.com just like it makes it easier to prosecute workaday criminal defendants. In an odd sense, the police commenter Eskimo88 and the defendant in Tienda had somewhat aligned legal interests, at least as far as favoring a precedent that maximally protects internet privacy, forcing the state to prove authorship definitively as opposed to circumstantially.
What you say online, even anonymously, is increasingly likely to get you in trouble on the job or even with the justice system. I don't know that we've yet reached "the end of anonymity," but Internet privacy - for cops and citizens alike - certainly hangs by a tenuous thread.