It Could Happen to You Too.

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Thanks to Law Enforcement AND an Online Freelance Crime Writer....

On July 28, 2014, the topic on facebook was....

"Rockmart father & son arrested on burglary charges."

“Their mugshots were callously displayed as the author's headline topic of the day, enlarged, displayed in contrast, and associated with misleading information obtained from the police report to evoke the reader's attention.  Out of all the arrest records displayed on the author's website, my husband and son were singled out and ridiculed.” 

After a weekend of worry, nausea, and lack of sleep, I had hoped that I would be able to rest easier once my husband and son were released from jail, but it was only the beginning of our nightmare.  When the news got out about their arrest, gossip spread like wildfire on social media, and the more it spread, the more the story changed.  There were so many versions going around about what supposedly happened that led to their arrest, and one of those versions falsely implicated them in a forced entry burglary that We Had Absolutely NO Knowledge Of Until We Read About It ONLINE!  We value our privacy and don't spend much of our time on social media like so many others, so we knew nothing about some of the horrible things that were being said about our family on facebook.  We became aware of these degrading accusations only after someone else saw it on facebook and informed us about it.  But here's the scariest part.  When we acquired a copy of the police report, we identified the source of these allegations after discovering numerous discrepancies on the report.  Even though most of the information on the police report was inaccurate and misleading, it had been released to an online freelance crime writer who appeared to have linked the information from her website to social media, thereby inadvertently setting off a sequence of online verbal attacks against our family.  Even worse, some members of law enforcement even participated in the online gossip.  Why would an agency whose job it is to serve and protect disclose imprecise information to social media that has the potential to disgrace our family's reputation and/or put us in danger if someone believes it?  Even though social media is accepted in our society as a conventional means of communication, I have difficulty finding it acceptable when it involves law enforcement.  In my opinion, if an officer makes comments on social media that causes harm to another person, it's not only unprofessional, it's a total disregard for the Constitution they swore an oath to uphold.

 

The police report contained so many discrepancies that it put our family at the center of humiliation, especially since it had now been spread all over social media.  A lot of the information that had been documented in the report DID NOT happen!  I became physically nauseous as I read about some of the deceptive details on the police report, with the most outlandish detail stating that they had used forced entry with an electric power drill screwdriver to break into the homeowner’s pool house by removing screws to the door to gain entry.  Are you kidding me!!!  Over outdated Xbox games!!!  This was brand new information to us and is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE!  This accusation is not only false, it's ridiculous!  Who walks around conveniently carrying an electric power tool on them!  Where is the alleged power drill, screwdriver, or whatever it supposedly was NOW!  The report even stated that my son was questioned about the removal of screws on the pool house door.  Excuse me?  That is also absolutely and completely false!  I was standing right there during the questioning and with God as my witness, there was absolutely no mention of a forced entry or the "so called" removal of any screws on any door on the day of their arrest.  If the officer had mentioned anything of this nature, all three of us would have set the record straight on the spot, especially me, but it was NEVER brought up!  I Am NOT Kidding When I Say That We Learned About It The Same WAY And At The Same TIME Everyone Else Did ....When We Saw It On The POLICE REPORT And Read About It ONLINE!  There wasn't one shred of evidence collected by law enforcement to back up these accusations.  No pictures, no interviews with neighbors and potential witnesses, and most importantly.... no confiscation of a power tool that we knew nothing about and DOES NOT EXIST!  This officer must have forgotten that I was present that day and was attentively making a mental note of everything I heard and saw, so how dare he make such offensive claims against my family that I know DID NOT happen!  Also, he is obviously not aware that I am a God fearing woman who would be willing to swear on a stack of Bibles before EVERYONE, including God himself that what I'm saying is the truth and will do so without hesitation!  Is he willing to do the same?

My question is how could inaccurate information that has the potential to destroy our family’s lives end up on the police report and get released to the public without our knowledge?  Pieces of the puzzle started falling together as to where this distorted information originated from once we obtained a copy of the police audio.  After careful review of the audio and hiring a reputable company that handles court reporting transcripts to have it transcribed onto paper, we discovered that when the homeowner was questioned by the officer inside her home, she had made unfounded accusations against my husband and son and those accusations had been documented in the police report unbeknownst to us.  This is where the forced entry burglary information emerged.  Since it was never brought up or mentioned on the day they were arrested, we had absolutely no idea that the homeowner....the stepmother of my son's best friend and someone he had lived with for almost a year, had known since he was 12, and whom he provided with food and transportation had betrayed him in the worst possible way by wrongfully accusing both he and his Dad of forcibly breaking into her pool house.  She was no longer a trusted confidant.  She was now a traitor....a Judas.  The audio also captured a male voice, (which I am certain was the arresting officer), and he appeared to be agitating and escalating the situation by coaxing her to press charges instead of taking steps to resolve the issue in a fair and civil manner!  The baffling question of all was why?  Why would she make such horrible accusations?  What was her motive?  Was it because my son's departure from the residence meant no more help with food and gas and no more free Netflix?  But this wasn't the end of it.  Things would continue to get worse.  After being falsely accused of attempting to steal items that were his all along, in the end, there would be little or nothing left of my son's property to even claim.  Please refer to the "ABOVE the Law" tab for more information that is beyond belief.


I don't understand why she would mislead my son to believe that it was okay to retrieve his belongings and then say something to the contrary in the presence of a police officer.  After hearing this for the first time and as much as I didn't want to believe it, I honestly suspect that this had all been a set up.  If I had to guess, I firmly believe that my son may have been lured there for the sole purpose of being falsely accused, and this police officer jovially accepted her false claims as the Gospel truth!  I swear before God as I type these words.  I was present that day and my husband and son DID NOT do what they were falsely accused of!  The police report is wrong!  We have proof that the officer DID NOT say anything to us about the removal of screws or a forced entry break in on that property as he had illustrated in the police report.  It is my assessment that the report may have been written in a way to fit her side of the story and NOT to fit the actual events of that day as a way to possibly ensure a conviction if it ever went to trial.  After all, this officer did make threats that my son would do prison time.  Was this his way of making good on those threats?  We were absolutely disgusted over these allegations.  Regardless of what's been made public, our evidence confirms our side of the story and contradicts what's on the police report and what's been posted on social media.

Not knowing what to do at this point, we explained the situation to our County Sheriff, who we've known well for many years and is in no way associated with the police department who handled the police report, and he suggested that we contact the Chief of Police and file a rebuttal.  We took his advice and made every effort possible to have the police report retracted and corrected by phone and in person, but even with this powerful and tangible evidence there would be absolutely NO cooperation from the police department

After we reviewed the completed transcript, which substantiated what we had heard on the audio, thereby backing up our side of what actually happened that day, my husband made one last attempt by phone to have the police report amended.  He spoke directly with the arresting officer who had written the police report and made a failed attempt to explain that a lot of the details that were documented in the report did not happen that way, and for that reason we were requesting to file a rebuttal.  Having solid proof of our claim, we had hoped that the officer as well as the police department would do the right and honorable thing and review the evidence, which in my opinion would have clearly justified the need for a rebuttal.  Inconceivably, that didn't happen.  The officer, along with the police department refused to look at our evidence and make this right.  My husband even asked the officer if he had reviewed the police video/audio from the day of the arrest, and his aggressive response was, "I don't have to!"  So he tried a different approach with the officer and began reading portions of the transcript to him, which only triggered more hostility in the officer's voice.  After being verbally confronted with the evidence that contradicted some of his words and actions that day, the officer attempted to shift the blame toward other fellow officers who had also been on the scene by making comments such as,"YES I did, or NO I didn't do or say that!  You had better get your facts straight!  It wasn't me!"  The irony of it all is that we had our facts straight, in both audio form and on paper.  He just refused to listen.  In fact, instead of listening to what my husband had to say, the officer became abrasively defensive and hostile and abruptly hung up the phone to end the call.  This behavior further proves my claim that he was a bully.  Just a thought.....if this officer was so convinced that he was RIGHT and everyone else was WRONG, why not do the RIGHT thing and audit the police report?  Since there was such a drastic contradiction between what was captured on audio verses what was documented in the police report, it would have been in this officer's best interest to correct his mistakes.  My instincts tell me that this can't be an isolated incident, and we are probably not the only citizens who've been treated this way by a police officer in the same precinct.  Once others start coming forward with their stories, it will be only a matter of time before this entire precinct, including this officer’s identity, is exposed. 

After hearing about the details of what came across to me as a threatening phone conversation with a police officer, I was instantly overcome with a flood of emotions such as sadness, anger, and fear after coming to the realization that this officer didn't seem to care how detrimental his words and actions had become.  Even worse, I contacted the Chief of Police to file a complaint about the officer's rude behavior and literally begged him to investigate and correct the mistakes in the police report, but he refused to listen or review the evidence.  Instead, he sided with the officer WITHOUT an investigation, and I have a startling email conversation to prove this!  He still refused to scrutinize the police report even after my husband informed him of a conversation he had with the police department's own Sergeant, who was also present on the day of the arrest.  In this conversation the Sergeant specifically told my husband that he wouldn't have charged them with burglary and didn't understand why the arresting officer chose to do so.  Even more compelling, a trusted confidant told me about a texting conversation that she had with the stepmother on the same day this information went viral on social media.  During this conversation, the stepmother not only changed her version of the story several times, she also stated that she wasn't even sure if the door on her pool house was open or closed after stating to an officer and on facebook that it was screwed shut.  The fact that this conversation even took place, should in my opinion, be enough to discredit her claim and prove their innocence!

Having all of this evidence and lacking the understanding as to why the Chief of Police refused to even consider that an injustice may have taken place, I made it clear that I did not approve of the way he was handling the situation.  But after expressing my frustration and disappointment to this individual holding a leadership position, and whose job it is to oversee the operations of his department and the actions of his officers, I received the most callous and unprofessional response back.  Using his iPhone, he ended the conversation with, "Sorry you feel that way."  I am certain that this response isn't proper protocol for a Government agency, and we were left feeling violated and rejected.  When a person believes that their rights have been violated, I feel it's important for the police department to take responsibility for their actions instead of trying to save face by diminishing or ignoring the problem.  However, we were treated as if our lives were meaningless!
 

I trusted that if we spoke the truth, those in authority would listen....but they didn't.  Instead, my family was abandoned and left to fight false charges of a preposterous felony alone.  Again, this wasn't a burglary, and there are others outside our family circle who were not only aware that my son had been given permission to stop by the residence and retrieve his belongings, but also publicly stated that the door on the pool house was NOT screwed shut as the stepmother had claimed.  If I hadn't been fuming with anger over this accusation, I would have been laughing.  It's not only the dumbest thing I've ever heard anyone being accused of; it simply defies the laws of physics.  Since there was only about a 30-second window between the time they entered the back yard to knock on the back door and when law enforcement arrived, only someone like David Copperfield could have achieved such an act within seconds.  For anyone else, it's just not scientifically or physically possible.  I am calling out the officer who documented this false information in the police report.  Listen carefully.  There WAS NO evidence of a forced entry burglary because a forced entry burglary DID NOT occur.  I know because I was there, and my attention to detail is sharp!

What made the online harassment even worse was that this all happened about 2 weeks after I had regretfully contacted the same online freelance crime writer about publishing an article concerning the theft of our 4-wheeler that was stolen from our property.  I never imagined that the same individual would later be responsible for posting information on social media about their arrest using information obtained from the inexact police report, but taking it a step further by referencing MY NAME and the 2-week old article about the 4-wheeler theft, even though both circumstances were entirely unrelated.  Due to the media frenzy that quickly followed, I can only speculate that this information was integrated from social media to the author's website in an attempt to boost more traffic.  If so, it was like pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire.  Although I credit the 4-wheeler theft article for playing a partial role in the recovery of our stolen ATV, I also believe that both articles combined with the inaccurate details of the police report, contributed to and triggered the online ridicule, scorn, and contempt that our family endured at the hands of strangers.  Stop and think about how this looks to people who don't know the full story.  After our family became victims of a burglary, I sought help by making our story public.  Then a few short weeks later....we're falsely accused of a burglary!  It doesn't take an Einstein to recognize that posting this type of information on social media without first researching the facts can quickly destroy the lives of innocent people, and it also opens up the door to online bullying and persecution, which in some ways feels no different than having a loaded gun pointed at you.  I personally, having known the paltriness of this incident, would have been embarrassed to post any article or comments related to the circumstances of this claim without FIRST understanding the complete and accurate version of the story.  Creating a travesty of due process is NOT what our forefathers envisioned in the Constitution when they guaranteed Americans Freedom of Speech.  Aside from the devastation that this crime writer’s actions unintentionally caused our family, I have struggled as to not place partial blame on this individual for our pain.  Still....having the strength to overlook some of the erroneous details that were made public took a lot of praying and soul searching.  In the end, I have to accept that this individual was only doing her job and was basing it on information retrieved the police report.  Disastrously, the information she was given to write her online article was an inaccurate and malicious misrepresentation of what actually happened.  What doesn't make any sense to me, however, is that after our 4-wheeler was recovered, information about those involved in the theft could not be released to us since the case was still pending in court.  Yet in our case, inaccurate information about the arrest of both my husband and son was released to social media within 48 hours.  Doesn't this violate the principle of justice, and why are there inconsistencies in the way pending court cases are handled?

 

Until you are verbally attacked, you could never imagine how it will affect your emotions.  Does anyone have the slightest notion of what it feels like to walk into a store, the bank, or a restaurant for example, believing that everyone who sees you is wrongfully judging you and your family over false information they saw on facebook?  It's emotional torture and no one deserves that!  So within a few short days, the emotional distress of their arrest and the verbal online attacks had taken such a toll on me that I was forgetting daily routine activities like washing my hair, for example, and washing my hair is something I would NEVER forget to do under normal circumstances.  I would find myself getting in the shower, wetting my hair, and then getting out to dry off without realizing that I didn't shampoo or condition my hair.  I didn't grasp what I was doing for days until I was unable to comb out the tangles.  Although this may appear trivial to most people, it was significant for someone like me who has always been alert and conscientious in everything I do.  This horrible experience has taken over my life and put me in a state of bewilderment and confusion with the inability to understand why this was happening to us.  I also developed a nervous trembling sensation in my hands that I never had before this happened, which lasted for several months and often made it difficult to hold a glass of water or any other liquid without spilling it or being able to effectively use my keyboard at work.  This is just a sample of the health problems that began to emerge within 2 months after the incident.  My family's source of income is extremely limited, so being able to function properly and perform well on my job is imperative since my family depends primarily on my income to provide us with the basic comforts and necessities of life.

Emotional trauma can be just as or more damaging than physical trauma.  The picture above is my illustration of what emotional trauma feels like.  It's shocking to discover just how many ailments lay dormant inside the human body and surface only after the body experiences a traumatic event.  My husband already suffered from health problems before this happened, and I felt helpless as I watched additional health issues surface.  These afflictions have caused immense discomfort in his daily routine activities.  Since these conditions developed quickly after this incident, I have no doubt in my mind that the stress of our family's ordeal played a major role in the progression of his illnesses.

Being an individual who has spent very little time on social media, I must say that this adversity was an eye-opening experience for me.  It brought to my attention just how cruel and deceitful some people can be toward others.  Will someone please help me understand why some people think that it's okay to openly gossip about others on social media and refer to the person's FULL NAME who's involved when that individual is not even engaged in the conversation, particularly when it involves a pending court case?  This opens up a door that allows others to add exaggerated information about the person or the pending court case, even if they know nothing about it except for what they've read online.  I see this as trial by social media, which is contempt of court.  I feel it's disrespectful and immoral.  Most importantly, it's in the realm of a violation of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution of a person's right to an impartial jury.  Anyone, including law enforcement, who publicly makes comments about a case or a defendant in a way that could prejudice a trial, should be held accountable.  Even if the press questions them about a case, a badge does not give an officer a "free pass" to publicly discuss or make comments about ANY pending court case on social media that may cause others to prematurely form an opinion without the complete facts.  The damage it can cause is irreversible.   

 

So if anyone reading this happens to be among those who have actively participated in this social media gossip hysteria, you may not only have violated the Constitutional Rights of the accused, you may have also jeopardized the outcome for any impending victims involved in court cases where a crime actually did occur.  It's NOT about whether you believe that person is guilty or innocent of those accusations, because those who spread gossip on social media have NO RIGHT to make that determination.  It's about taking responsibility over what YOU say about another person online.   THE INTERNET IS FOREVER, and what you say today can and will come back to haunt you tomorrow!

Since so many defamatory comments about my family had surfaced on social media, the next several days were spent dealing with the humiliation and embarrassment of being approached by numerous individuals with questions about what actually happened that led to their arrest.  But just when I thought I'd heard it all and didn't think the accusations could possibly get any more ludicrous, or could they?....that's when I was accused of driving the "getaway car" that day.  Wow....I had no clue that's what I was doing until some arrogant "know it all" on facebook made me aware of it.  Unquestionably, before we even had an opportunity to hire a defense attorney, we were already being forced to defend ourselves from the epidemic of slander that was quickly escalating into online bullying and harassment.  My biggest concern was that this information, if viewed by employers, Youth Development Organizations such as the BSA, and BSA sponsors, it could potentially cause permanent damage to their reputation and leadership status.  Therefore, my husband, who is a well-respected Boy Scout Master, wasted no time explaining the true details of the full story to the parents of the boys in his Scout Troop.  He also requested and scheduled an urgent meeting with the District Executive of The Boy Scouts to inform him of this incident as well.  Before my son had an opportunity to speak to his supervisor at work about what actually happened that led to his arrest, his supervisor approached him and asked him to explain the details of what had been posted on facebook.  Is it really fair to be put in an awkward position where you're forced to defend yourself against social media slander before you've even had an opportunity to defend yourself as well as prove your innocence in a court of law?  The reality of it all is that the dramatic story about a "burglary" involving father and son that became the topic of facebook during that time was really nothing at all, which makes the damaging effects of the scrutiny our family endured even more tragic.  Unfortunately, the situation didn't get any better.

The only positive side to all of this is that for every negative comment we received, there were 3 times as many positive comments that superseded the negative ones.  Those who know us and know our character have no doubts about the truth of what really happened.  Those who don’t know us and have wrongfully judged us, please heed my warning.  You too could very well find yourself in the same situation someday.  You're only kidding yourself if you think otherwise.  I don't care who you are, who you know, how much money you have or don't have, or your social status.  This could happen to anyone!  Don’t believe everything you read and don’t believe everything you hear, because I can assure you that things are not always as they appear to be!


I was determined to put a stop to the online harassment and false accusations and took immediate action to do something about it.  I spent the next several weeks contacting and writing to numerous individuals, CEO’s, and those involved in various political organizations with a goal of having this voyeuristic garbage removed from the Internet.  Unfortunately, I hit a lot of roadblocks, but it didn’t stop me.  Although I was successful in getting some of the information pertaining to my husband and son's identity removed from one particular online crime writer's website, the damage had already been done.  (See below).  That's when I made the decision to let my voice be heard by building this website.  As horrible as this experience has been for my family, it has ignited a fire inside me to rally for new laws that I hope will change how information pertaining to arrest records are released in the future.  The fuse was lit when the wrong woman's family was exploited online and I vowed that it would never happen again, to us or anyone else.  I cannot bear to see another family endure the horror that we have lived through.  Although I cannot change what's already happened to my family, through perseverance and determination, I will FIGHT until the day MY COFFIN is lowered into the ground to ensure that another family doesn't suffer a similar fate!  Until an injustice has been rectified, I fight back; I fight BACK hard, AND I DON'T GIVE UP!!!

"There's a danger in the internet and social media.  The notion that information is enough, that more and more information is enough, that you don't have to think, you just have to get more information - gets very dangerous." - Edward de Bono

Below is the written request I sent to the individual who published the article that ultimately triggered the facebook frenzy associated with my husband and son’s arrest.  In order to protect the identity of all parties involved, I found it necessary to omit portions of my letter as well as the response I received back where names were mentioned, which also includes the name of the Police Department.  At this individual’s own admission, it proves that the inaccurate/false information came directly from the Police Department.  Since they should be protecting my family's rights, I hold them primarily responsible for the online harassment we endured, although the author of the article should have further researched and verified the information before making it public.  The tone of the response also captures this individual’s lack of empathy and understanding to the negative impact the article had on my family.


POLICE OFFICERS SHOULD BE HELD TO A HIGHER STANDARD AND SHOULD CONDUCT THEMSELVES WITH THE DIGNITY ACCORDED THEIR ESTEEMED POSITIONS.  FOR THIS REASON, THEY

SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN FACEBOOK GOSSIP ABOUT A PENDING CASE!

(Left) Me, with my oldest son in a Church directory photo years before the arrest.
(Right) Picture 1 - Me, with my oldest son in 1995.
(Right) Picture 2- My son as an adult with his son.

The baby in the first picture would be placed in handcuffs 19 years later for a crime that never happened.  Regardless of his age at the time of his arrest, this baby is what I saw being taken away in handcuffs.
 

I also want to use this opportunity to discuss the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover."  My son is an Eagle Scout but you wouldn't know that just by looking at his appearance.  He loves tattoos and he has many tattoos, like so many others in his age group.  At one time, he even considered pursuing a career as a tattoo artist.  I see nothing wrong with that.  However, I have personally witnessed on several occasions, where in my opinion, he was misjudged by his appearance.  From my perspective, one police officer managed to destroy in twenty minutes what had taken me twenty years to instill in my son; that we are all equals in the eyes of God and should be treated as equals by others.  Often a person's inability to recognize or accept diversity causes much of their distorted judgment.  That's what I believe happened on the day of the arrest.  The officer handcuffed my son during questioning, even though he was sitting down with his arms folded and in no way behaving as if he was a threat.  He probably took one look at him and automatically assumed guilt.  Although he later denied it, he threatened my son with jail time, and then false information coincidentally appeared on the police report.  I view this as another form of "profiling."  Through the officer’s actions, especially when he used the term, Boy," in a derogatory tone of voice, I was left believing that my son's dignity had also been violated.  Even if the officer didn't realize what he was doing, I perceived his actions and words as offensive.  Discriminating an individual because of their appearance is morally unjust, if that's indeed what he did.  People, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, country, or social status are all human beings who have the right to receive respect, fair treatment, and personal dignity.  Furthermore, an officer should NEVER use his position to intimidate others, which is what I believed happened after my husband confronted the officer about the discrepancies in the police report.


Even though police officers have authority in our community that civilians do not have, they aren't infallible, and they should never uphold the attitude that they can treat civilians with disrespect.  It is my hope that someday training in "Human Dignity" will become a requirement for anyone entering into the field of law enforcement.

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