Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Man updated Facebook status - during a standoff.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, Jason Valdez held a woman hostage at a motel in a tense 16-hour, overnight standoff with SWAT teams. Valdez, 36, is no stranger to Utah police, having been convicted for aggravated assault and domestic violence in front of a child. His latest encounter with the law, which led to the incident, was for missing a preliminary hearing on a case for felony and misdemeanor drug possession charges. Police tried to serve him the warrant for the missed court appearance, however Valdez allegedly resisted and took a hostage with him inside Western Colony Inn. It would have been an ordinary standoff with the police that we read and see in the news everyday, save that Valdez found time to keep his family and friends updated - via Facebook.

“I’m currently on a standoff... kinda ugly, but ready for whatever”, Valdez first posted in his account at 11:23 p.m. with the popular social networking site. He then posted "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." However, his posts did not end there. He also updated his friends when police shut off the power that his "hostage" was fine - and with him willingly - and that police are jeopardizing her life by their actions. Valdez even uploaded 2 pictures of himself with the woman and quoted the photograph, saying “Got a cute ‘hostage’ huh?” Valdez’ friends and family also communicated back to him while the standoff was ongoing. One of his friends even tried to helped him by posting that police had a “gunner in the bushes stay low." Valdez replied "Thank you homie. Good looking out." The stand-off lasted until around 9 a.m. the next day, when the police finally decided to storm inside the room. However, before being arrested, Valdez shot himself in the chest with the handgun and is now in the hospital in critical condition.

During the duration off the standoff, police said that his friends responded to his account with over 100 comments. Some people offered words of support, and others pleaded for him to "do the right thing." 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 one of the police officers.

This incident shows how social networking sites have been increasingly integrated to the lives of people, even to the point that they will use it during peculiar circumstances, or even dangerous situations. It also illustrates how communication is made easier through the use of these services. Valdez was able to communicate with his family and friends in the middle of a critical standoff with the police by simply updating his Facebook status. The relative convenience and ease of use of social networking sites take communication to a whole new level, connecting people in a more dynamic, interactive way.

With regard to the people who helped him evade the police arrest by posting information as to the actions and whereabouts of the police during the standoff, I personally believe that they should be made criminally liable, in one way or another. They shouldn’t be able to hide in the cloak of “privacy.” I am not sure if posting it in the criminal’s Facebook wall will have any difference as compared to messages being relayed through PM (private messaging). Furthermore, I’m not sure as to what offense will be applicable to them though. I am not familiar as to the elements of the crime “obstruction of justice” in the United States. Generally, it is defined as the crime of interfering with the work of police, investigators, prosecutors, regulatory agencies, or other (usually government) officials. But what would constitute sufficient “interference” that will make a person liable for such crime? Evidently, there is a wide gap between the advancements in information and communication technology and the laws that seek to regulate it.


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