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Sheriff's Office's Facebook jokes may have triggered suicide

As law enforcement agencies utilize social media to gather evidence and search for suspects, they should remember that their actions can have a serious effect on the public. This is true even if officers think they are making a joke. Supposedly humorous remarks made on Facebook by a sheriff's department may have led to a teenager's recent suicide.

The victim, 19, took his life a few days after his county sheriff's office posted a sarcarstic message about criminal charges against him in June. Referring to the victim by his name, whoever was posting in the office's name claimed that he "is no longer the Wanted Person of the Week ... he is the Wanted Person of the Month of June. Congratulations!"

The deputies may have hoped to embarrass the teen into turning himself in. He had arrest warrants out against him for alleged possession of a controlled substance, driving without privileges and another charge.

Instead, he committed suicide three days after the post appeared on Facebook. His sister said that the deputy who made the post also sent the victim a private message telling him to turn himself in, and offering to give the 19-year-old "a copy of the wanted poster" if he did so.

It appears that the suspect was living with mental illness, which likely played a factor in his death. The coronor noted that he had depression "and a number of problems," without going into further detail. Nevertheless, it may not have been a coincidence that the victim committed suicide shortly after the sheriff's office mocked him on Facebook for anyone to see.

The sheriff said he had sent his condolences to the victim's family and acknowledged that the deputy's language was inappropriate. However, the sister said that the family had not received an apology.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Man, 19, Commits Suicide After Sheriff's Office Posts Sarcastic Facebook Message," Hunter Stuart, June 26, 2013

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