Assisting a Hostage Taker via Facebook

It's a new world:

An armed Valdez, 36, held a woman hostage at a motel in a tense 16-hour, overnight standoff with SWAT teams, all while finding time to keep his family and friends updated on Facebook.

[...]

In all, Valdez made six posts and added at least a dozen new friends.

His family and friends responded with 100 comments. Some people offered words of support, and others pleaded for him to "do the right thing."

[...]

"I'm currently in a standoff ... kinda ugly, but ready for whatever," Valdez wrote in his first post at 11.23pm "I love u guyz and if I don't make it out of here alive that I'm in a better place and u were all great friends."

[...]

At 2.04am, Valdez posted two pictures of himself and the woman. "Got a cute 'Hostage' huh," Valdez wrote of the photographs.

At 3.48am, one of Valdez' friends posted that police had a "gunner in the bushes stay low." Valdez thanked him in a reply.

[...]

Police believe that responses from Valdez's friend gave him an advantage.

Authorities are now discussing whether some of Valdez' friends should be arrested and charged with obstruction of justice for hampering a police investigation. "We're not sure yet how to deal with it," said Croyle.

Posted on June 24, 2011 at 11:40 AM • 43 Comments

Comments

mcbJune 24, 2011 12:23 PM

Seems SWAT might have to deploy wireless jammers to maintain OPSEC during standoffs like this. The pal who tipped him off ought to be indicted. Frequently the cops can resolve these situations without any harm if allowed to control the scene. Sad situation.

YariJune 24, 2011 12:31 PM

Indictments? Absolutely.
But I disagree with the jamming - too many counterexamples where law enforcement were in the wrong, and diligent citizens could document it... Beware of what you ask for, it'll come back to haunt you, no?

keithJune 24, 2011 12:52 PM

Makes me angry when police think you should support them over your friends. Get real.

aikimarkJune 24, 2011 1:17 PM

Sharing the fact that there was a police sniper "in the bushes" and to keep his friend's head down doesn't rise to obstruction. If the police didn't have a block on news coverage and a large crowd perimeter, then that information share might be available from a radio or television broadcast or by phone (text or voice). Any DA that would press such charges is an ass.

IridianJune 24, 2011 1:18 PM

Keith, there's a difference between legal "should" and personal moral "should". Legally, you should get penalized for supporting your friends doing crimes. This you should accept and not whine about, even if your personal morals say you should help. Then you just help, and take the penalty without complaint. It's that simple. That's how it works in a civilized society with high moral standards.

Relish DachsundJune 24, 2011 1:28 PM

I don't believe Valdez's Facebook friend gave away any vital info there. A friend in law enforcement commented, "if we're talking armed stand-off, then some cop hiding in a bush (or literally pretending to be the bush) is usually a given."

JohnJune 24, 2011 1:30 PM

Iridian, "Civilized" societies are the most childish, immature fields of asses I've ever seen.

jackJune 24, 2011 1:57 PM

yea it would have been a good way for the cops to became Valdez's "friends" at that point, but how would they have known Valdez was chatting on Facebook during the situation?

samJune 24, 2011 1:58 PM

This would have been an interesting time for someone nearby using Firesheep to take over his Facebook identity.

"Well, it's time to kill the hostage."

"I hope the police don't find that bomb I planted in the parking lot."

RookieJune 24, 2011 2:19 PM

@John
"Civilized" societies are the most childish, immature fields of asses..."

Iridian's right.
Civilization is the only reason you can eat food without being a farmer and don't get your head shot off for saying something others disagree with.

Anarchy is ghastly and usually promoted by people who have never stopped to really consider what it would mean on any significant scale.

mcbJune 24, 2011 3:00 PM

@ Yari

"I disagree with the jamming - too many counterexamples where law enforcement were in the wrong, and diligent citizens could document it..."

My first thought is that a concerned citizen could capture images or video and transmit them later.

Then I got to thinking that the Arab Spring depended on the ability to transmit tweets and videos of atrocities as they were being committed. While I give cops in the U.S. much more credit than goons, thugs, and foreign mercenaries in the employ of Middle-Eastern despots, your concern is worthy of consideration.

Still, if there is a chance the cops could have subdued Valdez without gunfire (or giving him time to shoot himself) then his buddy did him no favor.

PrometheeFeuJune 24, 2011 3:55 PM

I have a hard time blaming the friend who helped the guy not get shot. Saying: "You're about to be captured quick, shoot the guy behind you" is one thing. But given the police's propensity for violence, i would hope my friends would warn me of potential snipers whether they be police officers or random thugs. Of course, I don't think I'm likely to ever get into a standoff.

John E. BredehoftJune 24, 2011 4:34 PM

Technology itself is neutral. The same technology that allowed someone to send the "there's a cop in the bushes" message was also used to send the "do the right thing" message. Jamming one message will jam the other message...and cut off the ability of police to communicate with the person if necessary.

Richard Steven HackJune 24, 2011 4:41 PM

Rookie: "Anarchy is ghastly and usually promoted by people who have never stopped to really consider what it would mean on any significant scale."

Oh, bullshit. There have been anarchic societies in the past that worked. The only reason it can't work now is we have ten thousand years of lames conditioned to believe the state is necessary (and usually God) and who have lost all capacity for personal responsibility. The smarter ones are busy manipulating the state for their own advantage against the suckers who still believe in it despite ten thousand years of war and general fail to do anything useful for people except push people around and get in the way of innovation.

Not to mention that states ARE "anarchistic" in the negative sense. All states are imperialistic by definition and can only be restrained from expanding by the presence of larger and more powerful states. All this inevitably leads to war. The United States is now the textbook example of this.

As for using cell phone/WiFi blockers, this is routine in bomb threats to prevent command detonation of the bomb. It should be standard in hostage situations. The problem is allowing the hostage negotiator to talk to the hostage taker in the case where a landline is not available. Talking over a bullhorn really isn't the preferred method.

mcbJune 24, 2011 5:47 PM

@ Richard Steven Hack

"There have been anarchic societies in the past that worked."

Those would be?

GabrielJune 24, 2011 6:16 PM

While governments in general are in dire need of reform, I for one do not feel like:

- starting my own farm, because everyone has to be self-sufficient
- having little or no infrastruture (roads, telecomm, etc.)
- raising a personal army to defend my land and possessions
- living for 40 years at best roads
- not being able to freely travel 50 miles without paying whatever clan or tribe is along the path
etc. etc. etc.

AMAJune 24, 2011 7:55 PM

I see potential for a subreddit: I am currently committing crime foo. AMA.
Might make for easier access for the police than using loudhailers.

lmJune 25, 2011 12:20 AM

"As for using cell phone/WiFi blockers, this is routine in bomb threats to prevent command detonation of the bomb."

Exactly, that's why smart ass would use a "dead man switch" and when the bomb squad arrives...! mentioning "routine" in this situations is like trying to win a chess master by playing your "routine" moves.

BrianJune 25, 2011 4:26 AM

@mcb:

Much as I hate to support RSH in this (the Internet is littered with too many unthinking anti-Christian -- and anti-religion in general -- rants. Fashionable atheism is horrid.), I have to bring up the Piraha Indians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3_people) would qualify. The Wikipedia page describes their culture as a sort of primitive communism, but "anarchy" fits a bit better.

Steven R ClarkJune 25, 2011 5:21 AM

This is no different from calling the guy to tell him the cops are on the way round, dump all the dope down the toilet.

The means for doing so are slightly different.

Whether the friend 'gave away vital information' or not, one *can* argue that the timing of a forced entry is vital. Taking away the element of surprise reverses the party in control. The man inside with the gun suddenly becomes a lot more dangerous if he can prepare.

Post-factum analysis of events is always the wrong way to interpret them when you're asking the question "what *could* they have done with what they knew at the time". Rationality assesses things in the order they occurred. Rationalisation reconstructs them from how they turned out.

I tend to agree with Mercier et al [see post on June 22]. Rationality is most often used in argumentation as a tool to 'win', rather than as a tool for analysis. Emotional states have a huge impact upon how people act and react.

The fact that Valdez knew the police were about to rush him allowed him to pre-empt them. Which prolonged the siege. That no one died or was shot is fortunate. If Valdez *had* been so inclined, the forewarning could have proven fatal.

Providing assistance to someone that enables, or could enable, them to evade police (or worse), is a crime itself *precisely* because that assistance has a tendency to prolong or escalate matters. The fact the friend used Facebook as the means to communicate is immaterial (and it was bound to happen eventually, and probably has in the past). As is the fact that the stand-off ended without bloodshed.

GabrielJune 25, 2011 8:42 AM

@Steven: Especially considering that the hostage and then the police were the most at risk "non-perpretators" in the situation. If the police could not maintain control of the situation due to the friend's aid, the hostage would have been at greater risk as the bullets started flying. An important facet of these operations are using a surprise, sudden substantial amount of force that would overwhelm the perpetrator, either stunning him into surrender/inaction, or not giving him enough time to respond and aim at the incoming police. If the friend's aid were to be key to such a tragedy (hostage or police killed) I wonder if he could be charged as an accessory to murder. (Assuming the friend was reporting on actual operational details, thus blowing OpSec).

Dirk PraetJune 25, 2011 1:15 PM

Nothing new here. If anything, it reminds me of Andy Warhol's quote "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Facebook is merely providing a low-entry tool to make it happen even for utter dorks as this guy. As to the other moron who tipped him off, I'd recommend using some IM client or Twitter DM from behind a VPN or Tor.

@ Iridian

"That's how it works in a civilized society with high moral standards."

Same question as the one RSH was asked about anarchic societies: unless you were refering to Thomas Moore's Utopia, name one.

shadowfirebirdJune 25, 2011 2:49 PM

This isn't good or bad, this is just the present (or as some would have it, 'the future').

Police are pissed off that civilians are pointing out their snipers to the hostage taker? But, at least they don't have to worry about how to get a phone in there so they can negotiate.

Also, I'm surprised that none of his friends tried to tell him that he was likely to get killed this way and to give himself up. When the police get with the programme, they'll certainly be getting people to try that. Creating sock puppets to do so, even.

In the present, anyone can be a broadcast media provider. There is no point not liking that. It's just the way it is.

Richard Steven HackJune 25, 2011 7:23 PM

Gabriel: Your notion of anarchism is antiquated and probably wasn't true back then. Read up. Also, there are "left" (collectivist) anarchists and "right" (individualist) anarchists and they aren't the same with regards to property rights and social organization. I used to be primarily a "right" anarchist - now superseded by my radical Transhumanism.

But it gets worse! :-) Wikipedia lists the following strands of anarchist thought:

Buddhist · Capitalist · Christian · Collectivist · Communist · Egoist · Existentialist · Feminist · Green · Immediatist · Individualist · Info · Insurrectionary · Leftist · Mutualist · National · Naturist · Nihilist · Pacifist · Philosophical · Platformist · Post-anarchism · Post-colonial · Post-left · Primitivist · Queer · Social · Syndicalist · Synthesist · Vegan · Zenarchy · Without adjectives

Enjoy! :-)

As a recent historical example of a relatively anarchist society, there is the case of the Spanish revolution, referenced here:

Anarchism in Action
http://www.spunk.org/library/groups/wsm/sp000019.txt

The Wikipedia entry "Anarchism in Spain" gives a general overview, including a homage from George Orwell as to the resulting conditions in Catalonia.

Personally these days I believe the following:

1) Anarchism can only work in a rational society, therefore it can't work in any human society.

2) Statism doesn't work in ANY society, rational or not. In fact, by definition, statism wouldn't exist in a rational society since it is a fundamentally irrational and illogical approach to managing social levels of coercion.

3) What exists now is "state anarchy", or more precisely, "state chaos" wherein states and their electorates conduct themselves in a state of "controlled war" by various means, with frequent outbreaks of "actual" war, with states also increasing the oppression of their populations worldwide on an ever-increasing basis, interrupted only by invasions from more powerful states which reduce their society to temporary chaos only to be followed by a re-establishment of oppression, frequently worse than before.

This state of affairs is praised by everyone devoted to "peace" and "justice", i.e., morons and cowards without any sense of personal responsibility.

EdT.June 26, 2011 10:42 AM

If charges are appropriate for the "friend" who told the hostage-taker about the police sniper, then every new crew who reports on-scene during a crime in progress, where they give out ANY type of situational information, should also be prosecuted. After all, it is quite possible that the bad guys have access to a TV/radio/whatever.

~EdT.

SideriteJune 26, 2011 11:05 PM

Well, I remember that little hacker drama Takedown where Kevin Mitnick was trying to upload his software to a server and the "good guys" used a fake cell tower to throw a wrench in his plans.

I would think that facebooking or tweeting or whatever they call it is still like using an old style telephone line: the police can always be at the other end or indeed, the man in the middle.

GreenSquirrelJune 27, 2011 3:33 AM

How much value to the hostage taker is "gunner in the bushes stay low" ?

Is that information which will allow the hostage taker to prepare for a forced entry, therefore extending the siege?

Were the police aware that he had this new information, and then forced to change tactics, thus extending the siege and endangering lives?

Is there any indication that this pretty crappy facebook exchange - which included people telling him to stop - had any impact on the way the siege played out?

Do we even know if the person telling him about the "gunner in the bushes" was actually able to see the situation rather than some smart arse giving generically pointless advice?

Or is this incident pretty much a non-event that is only newsworthy cos it talks about Farcebook?

Did the hostage taker, in this incident, learn any more from Farcebook than he could have got from watching a live-tv news coverage of the scene?

TRXJune 27, 2011 6:22 AM

The default smartphone from most cellular providers will connect to the net, Facebook, etc. For a lot of early adopters and younger people, these capabilities are all part of "telephone", and my ancient Samsung phone is equivalent to something with a hand crank.

Valdez could just as easily have made a phone call. The difference is that his Facebook messages left a trail and were easily accessible to anyone who cared to look.

jackmanbobJune 27, 2011 10:41 AM

Obstruction of justice for the friends? Yeah, maybe. But what about the media?? How did the friend(s) know anything about the situation that could help him? Charge the media with obstruction, too!

ChanfanJune 27, 2011 11:04 AM

A lot of commentary on "supporting a friend" in such a situation, but very little, I see, on supporting the hostage…

Wang-LoJune 27, 2011 4:31 PM

"A lot of commentary on "supporting a friend" in such a situation, but very little, I see, on supporting the hostage"

Her battery ran out, and she couldn't get to her charger...

-Wang-Lo.

GreenSquirrelJune 28, 2011 4:14 AM

@Chanfan

"A lot of commentary on "supporting a friend" in such a situation, but very little, I see, on supporting the hostage…"

Ok - why dont you start?

There was commentary on how people told the hostage taker to "do the right thing."

How would you envisage people using facebook to support the hostage in this situation? Is it even possible?

Supporting the hostage is done through keeping the situation calm, ensuring the hostage taker doesnt get any more disconnected from humanity, giving the hostage a greater value alive than dead, trying to ensure a peaceful conclusion rather than a forced entry etc.

Other than communicating with the hostage taker, how do you suggest this is done?

Clive RobinsonJune 28, 2011 2:42 PM

@ Chanfan,

"A lot of commentary on "supporting a friend" in such a situation, but very little, I see, on supporting the hostage…"

I think you have missed the obvious. The use of the communications channel for good/bad was by friends of the hostage taker.

Importantly they were people who knew him and already on FaceBook.

Now I don't know what his relationship to the hostage was, but on the assumption it was little to none (as is often the case in publicized hostage cases in the UK), how would the hostages friends etc get to know the hostage taker was on FaceBook, or be able to communicate with him?

Now it is arguable that telling the hostage taker what the police etc appeared to be doing would probably increase the life expectancy of the hostage because it lowers his "jumpiness" as well as making him think on what his real situation is.

Belive it or not few hostage takers actually believe "we have you surrounded" from the police or negotiators as that is what they believe "they are trained to say" from films and the media etc etc (it's akin to the so called "CSI effect").

Having a "friend" give you a minute by minute update actually gets what is happening through to the hostage taker.

Further you need to ask how many hostages are actually hurt/killed by the actions of police snipers?

It's something that is not talked about a lot but the nonsense you see about "clear shots" when the hostage taker and hostage are less than half an arms length apart is "movie hype".

Yes people can reliably (+995) shoot an eight inch group (head shot) at 250yards and above on the range but that is in controled circumstances, the minute you have to vector in hight differences and unknown windage (which can be dramatic in built up areas) you are starting to talk eight inch at fifty yards "maybe" for many shooters.

I used to know a couple of people with long armed forces records that were involved with this sort of police shooting and their comment was "it's a good day when you hand the ammo box back unopened". This was in contrast to their police only "sharp shooters" who in general had a very different attitude, as highlighted by one being over heard saying exicitedly and loudly "Did you see them s*** themselves when they got marksmans measles" (refering to the "red points" of laser sights). Which was clearly overheard by a journalist who had to be persuaded by "editorial control" not to print it.

damirJuly 7, 2011 1:10 PM

Actually I'd like to ask "friend doing nothing wrong" supporters what if they are hostage (or someone from their family)
It is interesting how some people don't understand anything till they are on the bussines end of gun barrel

MarcJuly 15, 2011 9:19 AM

This happened in my own hometown (Ogden, UT) in addition to friends and family members leaving comments, the general public left some comments since his Facebook profile was set to be viewable to everyone. His family was complaining about all the hateful comments left by complete strangers who disliked him being a member of a gang among other things. Nice to hear his friends were also warning him about snipers which the local press didn't report even though they were reading his posts on facebook too.

gerhJuly 18, 2011 6:08 PM

Richard Steven Hack: Your paranoia is admirable, under the circumstances. But is it effective?

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