Occupy Denver: Police track down protesters' identities using YouTube (VIDEOS)
It's not a new tactic, but for some, it might be a surprising one: One of the ways the Denver Police Department has checked the identities of those faced with warrants for Occupy Denver is through online archival footage, including the average YouTube search. Previously anonymous protesters can be -- and have been -- easily identified through crowd and news coverage of weekend events. Depending on what they're wearing, not even Guy Fawkes masks can keep them anonymous.
"We can use that information from videos to help identify individuals suspected of criminal activity, and that's pretty significant," says Detective John White, a DPD spokesman. "I wouldn't say we use online searches frequently, but if our investigators believe there is some useful information on one of those YouTube videos that could be used to identity someone suspected of criminal activity, we do."
In this screen capture from a video below, Sean Driggers is on the right wearing a cap.
That's how Sean Driggers was caught, at least. Driggers was arrested on suspicion of felony assault on a police officer days after John Sexton had been taken in for the same investigation on the same day. (Sexton's charges have since been dropped.) Although the DPD repeatedly claimed that two felony assault cases had resulted from the October 29 demonstration, Driggers's full name wasn't released for a week before finally becoming public.
Early on in the DPD's statement of probable cause (on view below), Driggers is referred to only as an "unknown male," who, according to the document, attempted to strike Lieutenant James Henning with "a stick" while police removed tents from Civic Center Park. Officers said the perpetrator wore a brown and cream-colored newsboy hat, a brown T-shirt with stripes on the shoulders and blue jeans. According to the statement, he was seen holding the stick, also referred to as a "wooden lathe," and striking Lieutenant James Henning with it.
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But how to determine who did the deed? The statement of probable cause explains the police approach: "Detective (Joey) Perez conducted an internet search for any video taken of this incident. He located a video titled 'FAKED STAGED!!! Protesters surround Denver Police who retaliate with pepper spray' on YouTube.com... the aforementioned person wearing the 'Newsboy' cap could be seen clearly."
As far as the actual method of online search, the department remains tight-lipped: "I don't want really want to get into what our techniques are," White says.
Page down to see videos featuring Driggers and more. Here's the FAKE STAGED!!! video. Around the two-minute mark, Driggers can be seen shouting at officers while holding the lathe. He later ends up in a tussle with police officers during which he appears to hit Henning with the lathe while on the ground.
But still, Driggers retained his anonymity -- at least until the conclusion of Detective Perez's YouTube search. He eventually found a 9News video (below) that originally aired the evening of the incident. In it, reporter Nelson Garcia talks to the man in the newsboy cap, who is identified onscreen by his name in the corner.
Here's that second clip:
Once Detective Perez had Driggers's moniker, he needed only to run a system search for that name. That led him to a driver's license, which prompted an arrest warrant.
The use of online videos supplements footage from 102 HALO (High Activity Location Observation) cameras the DPD has installed throughout the city, including one stationed at 14th and Broadway near Occupy Denver.
"We use those cameras to monitor criminal activity, but we do not save any of the footage on those cameras," White says. "The footage is purged every thirty days unless it's needed to assist in an ongoing criminal investigation. It allows us to monitor certain locations and illegal activity and can be very useful in the prosecution of a case."
Read the complete Driggers probable cause statement here:
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: City admits that initial response to David Lane records request was too narrow."
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