Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers

Witness Intimidation Online: Twitter Leads to Arrest

When we hear the phrase “witness protection program,” we tend to think of Hollywood stars mugging it up in gangster movies. But witness protection is a very serious reality for countless people who have been brave enough to speak out against crime under threats of injury, blackmail, or even death. Now, technology is putting a 21st century spin on the issue: a Twitter account has outed witnesses to two shootings, and 17-year-old Nasheen Anderson of East Germantown has been taken into custody. Our Pennsylvania criminal attorneys weigh in on what should happen next.

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Secret Documents Leaked

People post about all sorts of things on Twitter. They post about how annoying their siblings are. They post about how much they hated the movie they saw over the weekend. They post about what their lunch was made out of. What they don’t normally post is highly sensitive legal material that could put other people’s well-being in jeopardy.

But, that’s precisely what Nasheen Anderson did.

How the 17-year-old managed to even get a hold of supposedly secret documents from a grand-jury investigation is still puzzling law enforcement officers. Anderson’s mother, Hope Anderson, says he never got a hold of them in the first place. “He don’t  have nothing to do with that website,” says Anderson. “I can’t even tell you who posted that stuff. My son can’t even tell you who’s posting that stuff.”

The District Attorney’s office isn’t so sure.

“Witness intimidation has reached near-epidemic levels, and we are very serious about not only stopping it, but also prosecuting the criminals who are engaging in these despicable actions, to fullest extent of the law,” says no-nonsense Philadelphia DA R. Seth Williams. “I don’t care how old you are: If you intimidate a witness in this city, I’m going to come after you.”

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It was mid-October when Nasheen Anderson began to post ominous content on his Twitter account. Initially, there were documents and photographs spilling information about witnesses to a shooting in January of 2012, a drive-by in June of 2012, and a homicide in 2007. One of them was captioned with an unmistakably threatening message: “EXPOSE ALL RATS.”

After making the connection between Anderson’s Twitter account (and an Instagram account, attached to the username “rats215”), Philadelphia police arrested Anderson at Martin Luther King High School in Mt. Airy. The DA’s office, which takes a hard stance on witness intimidation, says that Anderson, 17, will be prosecuted as an adult — not as a juvenile offender. He already has a criminal record, with past arrests for theft and robbery offenses.

Hope Anderson maintains that her son is innocent. “He’s not a kid that’s bad and running around in the street. He’s not trying to cause harm to nobody. These are… children just speaking about their opinion and them not realizing the effect sometimes of what they put on social media.”

Whether is is Hope Anderson or R. Seth Williams who is correct about Nasheen Anderson’s intentions, some 30 protected witnesses have already been outed by “rats215” — which has since been shut down by law enforcement agents. Detectives are still trying to determine how Anderson could gain access to the materials to begin with.

Anderson’s case is not entirely unique, however. In November of 2012, 20-year-old Freddie Henriquez was sentenced to approximately one to two years in prison after he threatened crime witnesses on his Facebook page.

If you need a team of experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys, call Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates today to schedule a legal consultation at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania, or contact us online.