Dustin McCombs heckled the law, and the law won. The young fugitive was wanted on forcible rape charges by the Jefferson County Sherriff’s Office in Alabama. Unable to locate McCombs, the authorities turned to social media, posting an image of McCombs on the department’s Facebook page. The first person to respond was McCombs himself.
“and [sic] a good thing I moved out of state,” read McCombs post.
The Sheriff’s Office immediately began engaging McCombs online, responding that it “doesn’t matter where you moved the [sic] warrant calls for nationwide extradition. You will be brought back to Alabama to stand trial. Please turn yourself in and spare yourself all the trouble. It will be easier on you and your family.”
At this point, the Sheriff’s Office figured that McCombs would cease to respond in such a public forum. At most, authorities thought McCombs might try to converse via email or private message. But instead, McCombs continued to banter with the department publicly, even after the department representative urged him to “be quiet” and to “not talk about the case here.”
“When Mr. McCombs began interacting with us on Facebook, we were not surprised,” says Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian. “Social media is one of the most commonly used method of communication for his age group.”
Within a few days, McCombs was captured in Ohio.
“As far as the role the conversation played, I would have to happily admit that it did help lead to his capture,” Chief Deputy Christian says. “We will just say that he was a pretty silly-acting individual to be facing such a serious charge.”
McCombs’ Facebook drama doesn’t just highlight the actions of a dumb fugitive; it also highlights the law enforcement’s increased usage of social media to fight crime.
“Law enforcement is actively tapping into social media information to investigate cases, to locate witnesses and defendants, and to just generally prepare a case for criminal prosecution,” says Mitch Jackson, an attorney at Jackson & Wilson. “It can be a very inexpensive way to get foundational information that in the past required on-the-ground investigators. Now they have it available via their keyboards.”
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