Hate Crime Update

The latest news about the bias-related incident that spurred Monday’s campus rally: The as-yet-unidentified victim found alleged assailant Philip Cooney (MSB ’10) not just on Facebook, but also in an MPD photo line-up. Here’s Sam Sweeney’s web exclusive. Be sure to keep an eye on the blog and Thursday’s edition of the paper for more news on this developing story.

– Tim Fernholz, Editor in Chief

7 Comments on “Hate Crime Update

  1. Tim,

    If the kid had been browsing through photo after photo on Phil Cooney’s Facebook page, obviously he would have enough of a sketch in his head to identify him once more in a photo spread provided by police.

    I just don’t see how this adds credibility to the accuser’s case.


  2. Once the guy picked someone via Facebook it spoiled any photo line-up the police would do.

  3. Justin,

    It’s a news update, not an argument. MPD seems to think it makes their case more credible, which is what the article reports.


  4. I don’t see why Facebook’s an illegitimate tool. It’s just like looking through a real photo album. If the officers had made a photo album of potential assailants and had the victim look at it, no one would be complaining.

    If you read Sam’s web exclusive, the police officer says Facebook’s legitimate.

  5. Actually Will if a photo album were made up with just potential assailants, people would be complaining. Any good line up (photo line up too) should have people who could not possibly have committed the crime, for the same reason as an good science experiment should have a control. Did victim pick out the person becuase they recognized the person OR because the person was in the lineup? Lots of research on this, and too often people will pick someone out of a photo lineup when the photo of the person they are suposed to be identifying is not included, the more photos in the lineup the more likely they are to pick someone. Without details of how facebook was used in this case it is hard to decide whether or not it was inappropriate.

    Regardless, once an improper lineup has been used it contaminates further use of lineups, the person identified becomes in the mind of the identified the person who was suposed to be identified, and given some reinforcement the person viewing the lineup will usually pass over the actual person suposed to be identified in favor of the person falsely identified.

    A fascinating phenomena, and if you ever wind up teaching psychology it makes a great class room experiment. At the begining of class have someone come in and do something to be noticed, come in five minutes afterwards and give the students 30 photos (none of the “perp” but tell them it is one of the 30) and see how many identify a person. At the end of the class have your “perp” come back and see how many cannot identify your “perp”. And that’s with a minimal time between event and identification.

  6. I agree with you that a line-up shouldn’t just be potential suspects. That’s why Facebook works. It’s made up of millions of people; even the Georgetown network has several thousand. All but one or two of those people didn’t beat anyone up on 36th Street. Facebook isn’t as reliable as pulling potential suspects mixed in with plainclothes cops into a real line-up, but it’s good for leads.

    Good point about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, though. I saw an episode of Dateline (or Nightline, who knows) where one of the show’s production assistants “stole” a professor’s purse in front of her class. Afterwards she said, “I only noticed his big nose” even though he didn’t have a particularly big nose. Her students were influenced by that and consistently IDed big nosed people in the lineup.

    Anyway, I don’t think Facebook should be the last word on Cooney’s guilt. But if it weren’t for Facebook or the victim otherwise IDing someone on campus, I wonder how the police would’ve had suspects. The only thing I can think of is 21 Jump Street-style.

  7. There must be thousands of medium height, medium build white guys with shaggy brown hair at Georgetown. It was dark, and the victim was getting assaulted…ten bucks says he did not get a clear look at his attacker’s face. And he found Cooney on Facebook days, if not weeks later? Plus, Facebook is not an annonomous line up, the victim already has names and other information available to him before picking out his attacker, further reducing the annonimity. I am concerned that because this is considered a hate crime (as it very well should be), that the police are desperate to pin this on someone…and a rich preppy kid in a bowtie seems a perfect scapegoat (that his dad has connections to the anti-gay Bush administration just makes it even more perfect…everyone loves to hate the Bush administration). It saddens me that everyone is jumping to conclusions and slandering Cooney based on such flimsy, unreliable evidence.

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