Police increasingly look to Facebook to investigate crimes, as an Arizona couple was arrested after allegedly binding their babies with duct tape and posting photos on the social network.
The young parents, Frankie and Kayla Almuina, are facing charges of child abuse after one of the mother’s Facebook friends anonymously tipped off the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline.
According to Reuters, the couple’s 2-year-old boy and a 10-month old girl were shown on the mother’s Facebook page with duct tape on their wrists and ankles and with their mouths taped shut. The boy was also pictured hanging upside down from an exercise machine.
The parents told police the photos were “all in fun,” but a sheriff’s department official said the children appeared to be “in sheer terror.”
Investigators seized about a dozen similar photos from the Almuina home and arrested the couple. Their children were turned over to another family member, while the parents were sent to jail.
The Arizona news came as police and prosecutors look to social media sites to prove illegal connections between people and to help build their cases.
For example, last year, when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, prosecutors said they expected to use the “Goodbye friends” message alleged gunman Jared Loughner posted to MySpace hours before the crime as evidence against him.
The Arizona case isn’t the first time parents have been arrested in connection with posting abusive photos online. According to CNN, a 21-year-old Chicago man is facing charges of aggravated domestic battery after posting a picture of his 22-month-old daughter, who was bound with painter’s tape across her mouth, her wrists and ankles, with a caption “This is wut happens wen my baby hits me back. ; ).”
Even benign postings can help, or hurt, a case. A New York boy who had been charged with a robbery in Brooklyn, jokingly complained on Facebook about breakfast at his dad’s house in Manhattan, supported his claims that he was otherwise engaged at the time of the crime. The charges were dropped.
Police are also starting to scan social media sites to help prevent crime. A New York Police Department unit was created this past summer specifically to comb social media sites for information on planned crimes and their perpetrators.
The special NYPD unit also scours sites for evidence of already-committed crimes, because many youthful offenders post information about their criminal misdeeds, not realizing the postings can be used against them.
However, in the Arizona cases, the arrests weren’t made until after anonymous tipsters alerted authorities, showing the public still plays an important role in helping police fight crime and tracking down criminals who use their Facebook status updates to boast about their illegal activities.