After a police shooting, detectives spend several weeks taking screenshots of Facebook posts documenting people’s reactions to the event. The sources include the Facebook pages of the police departments, the Tri-City Herald, and local television and radio stations.
According to Lt. Drew Florence, Richland Police Department crime scene supervisor, detectives read the posts looking for witnesses and other people who might have information important to the investigation.
“Some people are comfortable talking on Facebook but not to police,” Florence said.
According to Florence, the Facebook posts on public sites can be copied without a legal process to obtain them.
Special Investigative Unit
Officers from police departments in the area that are not involved in the case compose a Special Investigative Unit (SIU). The SIU investigates officer-involved incidents that result in death or serious injury and write a report.
The 1895-page SIU report on the Nov. 18, 2019, shooting of Dante Redmond Jones by Franklin County Sheriff Deputy Cody Quantrell, includes almost 200 pages of Facebook posts (pg. 722-920).
The 2,888-page report on the Feb. 9, 2020, shooting of Gordon Whitaker has 100 pages of Facebook posts. (page. 528-628 of the fourth installment).
The SIU reports list some posts by categories: Present During Event, Activity Leading up to Event, Unknown Presence, Knows Suspect, Unknown Category. Each comment under the categories includes the media outlet where the post appeared.
The Jones report differs from the Whitaker report in that after the category listing, it provides posts from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office as well as posts from seven media outlets. The Whitaker Report only provides the posts from the Kennewick Police Department, possibly accounting for the difference in the number of pages of posts, 200 in the Jones report but only 100 in the Whitaker report.
Via a Facebook personal message, the Observer contacted people who had posted to ask if they knew that the SIU reports included their comments. A few responded.
Not surprisingly posts from former Franklin County Deputy Jereme James Ekiert defended both Sheriff Jim Raymond and the deputies involved in the Jones shooting. His comments appeared on the KEPR Action News Report.
When one person asked where the body camera pictures were, Ekiert responded, “Being reviewed by investigators. This isn’t a 60 minute episode of blue bloods.”
The Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies do not have body cameras or dashboard cameras. In the Tri-Cities only the Pasco Police Department uses camera equipment.
Melissa Ruelas expressed surprise that her comments including, “It’s suspicious to me,” appeared on the KEPR Facebook page. Ruelas wrote to the Observer that her husband knew Jones well.
When Ruelas learned that Prosecutor Shawn Sant had not made public a decision as to whether he considered the shooting justified, Ruelas responded, “I thought this case was swept under the rug a long time ago.”
Sarese Kirk who commented on the Gordon Whitaker shooting said she was surprised her posts were part of the record. She noted, “I didn’t think that that was necessary especially when I spoke out of anger and emotion….”
She knew Whitaker and her posts are listed under the “Knows Suspect” category for a comment on the Kennewick Police Department Facebook page as well as “unknown Category” for another post on the KEPR Facebook page.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller declared in August that no charges would be filed in the Whitaker case because the officer who killed Whitaker, had a “good faith belief” that he was preventing death or injury to another officer.
After the Whitaker shooting, Francesca Maier posted on the Kennewick Police Department page: “What was the probable cause for contacting the men?”
When asked if she knew her comment would become a part of the police report, she said, No, I didn’t know that, but I don’t believe we have a right to privacy when posting on a public website, particularly not on the page of a public agency.”