Social media becoming new tool for authorities

By Kelly Ducote and Pat Caldwell, WesCom News Service February 26, 2014 11:06 am

During a standoff north of La Grande on Leffel Road this weekend, Facebook gave law enforcement insight to what four children being held hostage were going through. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
During a standoff north of La Grande on Leffel Road this weekend, Facebook gave law enforcement insight to what four children being held hostage were going through. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
 

Law enforcement aided by Facebook in Leffel Road standoff

Likes, Tweets and pokes are enough to boggle the minds of those unfamiliar with social media.

The advent of social media, though, is an avenue some law enforcement officials say can be helpful. 

During a standoff north of La Grande this weekend, Facebook gave law enforcement insight to what four children being held hostage were going through.

“We use a variety of tools to help with (negotiations),” said Capt. Craig Ward of the Union County Sheriff’s Office. “In this particular case, a kid was Facebooking with a friend.”

The friend brought the information to police, who were then able to monitor the situation better. When Ward heard a gunshot at the residence on Leffel Road, suspect Gregory Carter showed law enforcement four people in the window. Four children and an adult woman were inside, though.

“I was extremely concerned,” Ward said.

At the time, though, they had been monitoring Facebook activity and had reason to believe the child posting was doing so without Carter’s knowledge. Because of this, Ward said they believed the child would post again had someone been hurt. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

“It basically meant we didn’t have to assault,” Ward said. “It was extremely helpful for us to see what was going on in there.”

An assault on the home was not in the plans, Ward said, but could have been moved up to the “top tier of options” if they had gotten information, say from Facebook, indicating someone had been hurt.

Ward said using information from texting and social media is becoming more common.

“It’s kind of a reflection of the modern era,” he said.

In Ontario, social media use in law enforcement is increasing, too.

“It kind of changes the way we do investigations,” said Ontario Police Chief Mark Alexander. “With texting and Facebook, that is a form of communication where there are people who talk about crimes and different things and we have done some search warrants to access people’s social media.”

Still, there is a concern about misinformation available on social media.

A recent standoff in Baker City has caused Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner to cast a wary eye on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

“There was a lot of misinformation that moved around the community very rapidly. The stories out there were just incredible and I would attribute that primarily to social media,” Lohner said.

Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen said while he tries to stay away from third party communication, using texting and social media can be a valuable tool, especially in a hostage scenario.

“I’m open to employing any type of communication to resolve this type of situation,” he said.

 

Carter arraigned, arrested using pizza

Gregory Carter, 47, was arraigned Monday afternoon on charges of menacing, reckless endangerment of another and obstructing government administration, all misdemeanors, for his involvement in the standoff north of La Grande Saturday afternoon.

He is being held on a $30,000 bond and will next
appear in court March 17 for a plea hearing, according to court documents.

Documents show Sgt. Nick Pallis of the Union County Sheriff’s Office kept contact with Carter by phone during the afternoon and that the situation was ultimately resolved when Pallis and Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen took pizza up to the house.

Rasmussen said occupants of the house had requested some food and the team thought it provided an opportunity to end the situation. Typically, the sheriff said, food may be dropped off for people. This time, the sheriff initiated a conversation with Carter, who had been talked out onto the porch and had showed officers he was unarmed.

“So we put ourselves out there a little bit and brought pizza with us. I chose to have that contact so we could get close enough to contain him,” Rasmussen said.

During the discussion, Rasmussen was able to get Carter to shake his hand. That was when Pallis was able to make the arrest and end the 5-1/2 hour standoff.

“That was one handshake I never wanted to let go of,” Rasmussen said. “Once he decided to shake my hand, it was all over at that point.”

 

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.