Acquittal Helped by Facebook Rants from Disgruntled NYPD Officers

A Brooklyn jury acquitted a man accused of gun possession charges after his criminal defense lawyers discovered a treasure trove of derogatory, racist digital evidence on a Facebook group created by NYPD officers.

According to the New York Times, police officers who did not want to work at New York City’s annual West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn created a Facebook group to share their displeasure, complete with vulgar, intolerant epithets directed at members of New York City’s Caribbean community celebrating the event.

The disgruntled NYPD officers’ Facebook group name, “No More West Indian Day Detail,” is a a poignant example of how social media is occasionally used to spread intolerance and hatred with workplace colleagues. More importantly, it reinforces how Facebook has the potential to be a crucial investigative tool to unearth information that can be used to strengthen, or weaken, a client’s case. Litigants and witnesses who give little thought to the fact that public comments on the Internet may be used against them are in for a big surprise.

Tyrone Johnson, an unemployed restaurant worker, was arrested very early on the morning of the 2010 parade on gun possession charges. His defense attorneys at Brooklyn Defender Services discovered that Sgt. Dustin Edwards, the NYPD officer who arrested Mr. Johnson belonged to the Facebook group that described itself as created by “N.Y.P.D. officers who are threatened by superiors and forced to be victims themselves by the violence of the West Indian Day massacre.”

Skillful cross-examination of Sgt. Edwards by the defense lawyers, and use of some 70 pages from the Facebook group’s now-disappeared page, appears to have had a significant impact on the case.

A jury acquitted Mr. Johnson of the criminal charges. The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau is now investigating postings to see if any of the city’s police officer’s violated department rules and regulations, and the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes promised to investigate any matters that the NYPD refers it that stem from any officers’ conduct.