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Boston cops friending some people on Snapchat and watching their videos for criminal activity; one man arrested that way charges they're only doing that with minorities

A Dorchester man who was arrested on gun charges in 2018 after Boston gang-unit officers say they watched him in eight separate Snapchat videos holding what appeared to be a gun - and then arrested again on gun charges four months later after officers watched him in a new video holding what appeared to be a gun - will argue that Boston cops with Snapchat accounts are only going after Black and Hispanic people.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge ordered Boston Police to hand over data on all Snapchat use investigations between Aug. 1, 2017 and July 31, 2018, excluding cases involving murder, sexual assault and human trafficking, to Richard Dilworth's attorney had asked for two years of data, but Judge Robert Ullman shortened the period to reduce the burden on BPD - it turns out the forms on which officers file reports on Snapchat use are still written out on paper rather than compiled electronically.

Ullman issued his order after Dilworth's attorney said he had asked other Suffolk County public defenders about the race or ethnicity of clients snared through Snapchat and that of the 20 responses he got, 17 of the defendants were Black and 3 Hispanic and none white - in a city where whites make up 45% of the population.

In a separate case decided today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the conviction and 18-month sentence for a Roxbury man arrested on gun charges after officers watched him in an eight-second video holding a Tec-9 semi-automatic gun at a friend's apartment. In that case, the court said Josiah Watkins got a fair trial and that his attorney then did not fail to do his job by not raising the racial-profile example raised in Dilworth's case, because Dilworth's argument did not come up until after Watkins was convicted.

The court added, however:

This does not mean the defendant will not be entitled to seek relief should it turn out that the Boston police indeed utilized Snapchat as an investigatory tool in a racially discriminatory manner.

In Dilworth's case, according to a summary in Ullman's order, a Boston officer simply sent Dilworth, who was using the name youngrick44, a Snapchat friend request in October, 2017 and Dilworth, without apparently trying to find out who he was, approved it. Ullman noted:

There is no evidence that BPD gained access to the "youngrick44" account by hacking into the account or using any means other than "friending" Dilworth while acting in an undercover capacity.

On Jan. 11, 2018, gang-unit officers closed in on Dilworth on Hollander Street in Roxbury and arrested him and, according to a BPD account, seized "a loaded .40 caliber Smith & Wesson MP40 semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine." Dilworth allegedly continued to post Snapchat videos, still unaware that one of his followers was actually an account used by gang-unit officers - who then arrested him again on May 11, 2018 in Egleston Square, this time allegedly in possession of "a loaded 9mm Ruger handgun with an obliterated serial number."

Ullman concluded that Dilworth's attorney had made a good enough case to warrant issuing a summons for the investigation forms to help prepare his defense.

On the record before this Court, the defendant has made an initial statistical showing of racial disparity and the Commonwealth has not offered any explanation as to why Dilworth was initially targeted for Snapchat monitoring. Because BPD has no policies, procedures or protocols for its use of social media as an investigative tool, the explanation cannot be that BPD was complying with a written policy. In the absences of a BPD policy or procedure and a representation of compliance with that policy or procedure, or some other explanation as to why BPD initially targeted the defendant, Dilworth, the public and this Court can only speculate as to why police initially selected Dilworth as a suspect to be "friended" on Snapchat.

Boston Police and the Suffolk County District Attorney's office appealed Ullman's order, but in a ruling filed in July of this year, a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court rejected the appeal.

Dilworth had originally been scheduled for trial this past December, but both sides agreed to postpone that. His case is next scheduled for a status update on Oct. 28.

Defense filing in Watkins case - has judge's Dilworth ruling at the bottom (7.5M PDF).
Ruling in the Watkins case (157k PDF).

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Comments

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140

Here's BPD's chance to absolve itself of a charge of systemic racism! All they have to do is tell us what criteria they're using to determine who is and isn't a "gang member," since the decision appears to be completely arbitrary for people without a criminal record. I'm sure it's a completely black-and-white (er, no pun intended) determination, made with no knowledge of race or background or anything that could easily serve as a proxy for either. So let's just see how they're deciding which city residents get the undivided attention of an entire division of heavily-armed BPD patrolmen.

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30

The same guy was arrested 4 months later with another gun.

https://bpdnews.squarespace.com/?offset=1526136090230

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37

Some people openly claim their gang affiliation, it’s a badge of honor for some and something they take pride in. If you’re regularly in the presence of these people you get lumped in with them for good reason. This is a desperate legal defense attempt. The only race issue here is how do we stop our POC youths and young adults from joining gangs?

BPD has a written policy which clearly details its criteria for identifying an individual as a gang member.

Knowledge is power, Erik.

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5086f19ce4b0ad16ff15598d/t/593a8c...

I'm familiar with Rule 335, yes. In addition to the fun "anything we decide is gang-related is gang-related" clause, there's also the series of lawsuits pending against the city, pointing out that you earn points and get added to a database you can never get off of (you can only become an inactive gang member, or die, or go to prison) for such exciting activities as:

  • Wearing the wrong brand of shoes
  • Being in the same high school class as someone the BPD has decided is a gang member
  • Being the victim of a gang-related crime

Once you're tagged in the database, then all your friends get points added to their names, as well, because now you're all associates in a big ol' confederacy that BPD made up, which means you get followed around by the gang unit and get fake friend requests on Snapchat that are apparently allowed in court,.

Which is why I'd like to see the actual database, with the actual reasons that 5300 people are on it, and the actual delineation of Boston's supposed 160 gangs. (Fun fact: we have 12 times as many gangs per capita as Chicago. It's true, go look it up! Or, try to, anyway--you'll have to wade through a bunch of FOIA requests and lawsuits from the ACLU)

"Heavily-armed". oh man you'e priceless!

I'm just spitballin' here but usually the criteria for a "gang member" is being a member of a gang.

But, your snark is great.

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10

...BPD's list of "gangs" includes Fruits and Vegs?

https://www.wbur.org/news/2018/12/13/east-boston-student-discipline-to-d...

>Handwritten notes in the margins and arrows point to details like blue shoelaces and a Chicago Bulls hat as proof, prosecutors allege, of MS-13 affiliation.

maybe theyre targeting the people with illegal guns

massive, structural, systemic racism is totally real, and we urgently need to fix if

but maybe this isn’t it

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41

the constitutional ledger.

That's not how the Constitution works. Thanks.

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10

Bill Barr

How do they know they have illegal guns? Like, don't these kinda fly under the radar?

Should BPD friend a bunch of 80 year old grandmas to keep it fair and non-discriminatory, or should they maybe focus on the group known for their affinity for illegal guns?

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128

The question is whether they were applying the same rules to determine who to follow. If they scroll through a list of friends (of a known person) and only follow their black friends, that's discrimination. There are a lot of possibilities between following 80 year old grandmas and targeting minorities.

Although, in my experience, 80 yo grandmas do tend to have good weed.

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35

Weed bruh.

Grannies been smoking for decades. It’s a whole thing.

see.

I don't get it.

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11

AND WHO R THEY EXACTLY?

Start with the assumption that people wearing red T-shirts are more likely to be criminals. (Obviously, some are, and some aren't. Probably in about the same proportion as everyone else who doesn't wear red T-shirts) But never mind, you're going with the belief that red T-shirt = criminal.

Now focus your enforcement efforts disproportionately on people wearing red T-shirts. Sure enough, you'll end up arresting and convicting some of them.

Two years in, you'll have a nice body of statistical evidence: Look! Although only 10% of the population wears red T-shirts, 80% of the people convicted of crimes last year were wearing red T-shirts. Obviously we're focusing our enforcement activities in exactly the right place.

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10

I never understood why people would record themselves doing something illegal no matter how "private" it is.

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77

Its all thrill

Oooo ahhh I am doing something illegal let me film the occasion

Some people just do not care or oblivious that others may be watching

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12

That makes sense. I guess I'm just kind of not sympathetic when someone broadcasts their own crimes and then complains when someone actually pays attention.

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32

people are dumb. Young people in particular are dumb. I'm guessing you're over 30, which means you didn't have social media to publicly proclaim your dumb ideas when you were 21. Thank god I didn't, or I'd've been in a world of hurt if some enterprising police department decided to spend their time pretending to befriend me to trawl my feed. But in my day, you had to host your own web server if you wanted to broadcast your own idiocy, which means I could control it and scrub it from the internet when I wasn't 21 and dumb anymore. Also I was a white suburban dude, which means there's exactly a 0% chance I would have been a target anyway.

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20

I'm 39 but I grew up and still live in Chelsea. There was always something out there... I remember people doing stuff and taking polaroids when I was younger. There was always going down the street making a racket etc.

Evidence on video or not, one simply testifies that the video is fake.

Play stupid games. Win stupid prizes.

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69

>17 of the defendants were Black and 3 Hispanic and none white - in a city where whites make up 45% of the population.

In Dorchester, where this person was arrested, only 20% of the population is white. In Roxbury, where the other person lives, only 6% of the population is white.

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58

The black population is over policed? Nothing new, but that's what your stats say to me.

Let's have the courts and experts sort this out, hmmm?

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21

It's not racist to increase policing in areas where violent crime occurs most often:

https://www.universalhub.com/crime/murder/2020

It's not like there are dead bodies laying around Beacon Hill the police are just ignoring.

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66

income per capita difference between beacon hill and roxbury? start there, then work backwards and you might realize you’re not making the point that you think you’re making.

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11

That's two of the 17. Where did the other 15 live? Would you like a refresher course on elementary statistics, and how likely it is to draw a random sample of 17 people that just so happens to all be Black/Hispanic, even if they're all from white-minority parts of the city? (Hint: if they're all from Roxbury, it's a pretty dismal chance. If it's Boston as a whole, you've got a better chance at hitting the Powerball)

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15

And tell me how many are white?

https://www.universalhub.com/crime/murder/2020

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41

Having been a part of this online community for quite some time I am comfortable in the accuracy of the statement that a significant majority here are in support of a significant increase in gun control laws up to and including the prohibition of gun ownership.

The decision to post this story by Adam who has acknowledged his interest in the prohibition of gun ownership in past comments is therefore somewhat questionable because it intersects two competing priorities of the progressive left. Anti-guns versus racist cops.

The question in the case brought before us is not one of innocence but one of unconstitutional bias in police work to find violators of gun control laws. And the largest sum of comments are from those who identify the police as the party more in the wrong. So the guilty gun crime violators should just walk away free.

I'm not suggesting anything as simple as one is right and one is wrong. Why can't both potentially be wrong. We have significant potential sentences for the crimes unquestionably committed in the case but the majority here seem to wish to exonerate those crimes on the suspicion of improper police investigative behavior. Prove you weren't racist.

This entire episode is why even if guns were "banned" there would still be hundreds of millions of guns in the hands of Americans. It is also why getting the guns out of the hands of those who use them in violent crime (and getting those criminals locked up for the duration of the sentencing guidelines specified for gun crimes) is not effective in ending gun violence. Usually, the guilty are set free to continue their craft. That is also progressive.

Just saying.

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24

This makes remember the famous criminal Willie Sutton who was once asked why he robbed banks, and his response was simple, eloquent, and humorous:

"Because that’s where the money is."

I wonder what the stats for BPD monitoring individuals who post photos of themselves posing with guns versus people who do not.

Police given a task to uphold the law and immediately start targeting POC's? That checks out

I hope this creates a thorough policy in regards to stalking people's online accounts and hopefully people will make their pages private and use more discretion on who you give access to.

Not going anywhere near the rest of the comments above, but this really gets me heated:

Judge Robert Ullman shortened the period to reduce the burden on BPD - it turns out the forms on which officers file reports on Snapchat use are still written out on paper rather than compiled electronically.

The literal point of record keeping is to be able to review said records if needed. It's 2020; If BPD can't get it together and digitize all of their record keeping (I hope the irony of social media monitoring being recorded via paper is not lost on anyone here), that's on them.

The police are here to serve and protect the people. They work for us. I'm all for certain redactions or limitations to protect witnesses and victims or keeping certain sensitive records for active cases out of the public's hands until the case is complete. But generally speaking, all records relevant to a case should be available to all involved in it, and all records period should be available to the public.

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15

My very limited experience with BPD suggests that they still do a lot on paper, which was definitely a surprise to me. I wanted to report my credit card being stolen from a locked locker at the gym and I had to physically go down to the precinct and fill out a paper form to do so. That seems like the kind of thing that could easily be done online or at least via email.

it it was then immediately entered into the computer by the person at the front desk

Given the two choices:

a. BPD hasn't chosen to invest in the software, hardware and training to computerize their record-keeping process and make the content available (to the extent dictated by law) to external entities - and internal ones for that matter.

b. BPD loves paper-based record-keeping for the ease of making embarrassing records disappear and the difficulty of finding those that weren't "disappeared".

I'd be very surprised if b. wasn't the overriding factor.

The moral of the story is: Your mother lied. It's OK if everyone else is doing it. Who cares if what you do is illegal?