A Dorchester man who was arrested on gun charges in 2018 after Boston gang-unit officers say they watched him in eight separate Snapchat videos holding what appeared to be a gun - and then arrested again on gun charges four months later after officers watched him in a new video holding what appeared to be a gun - will argue that Boston cops with Snapchat accounts are only going after Black and Hispanic people.
A Suffolk Superior Court judge ordered Boston Police to hand over data on all Snapchat use investigations between Aug. 1, 2017 and July 31, 2018, excluding cases involving murder, sexual assault and human trafficking, to Richard Dilworth's attorney had asked for two years of data, but Judge Robert Ullman shortened the period to reduce the burden on BPD - it turns out the forms on which officers file reports on Snapchat use are still written out on paper rather than compiled electronically.
Ullman issued his order after Dilworth's attorney said he had asked other Suffolk County public defenders about the race or ethnicity of clients snared through Snapchat and that of the 20 responses he got, 17 of the defendants were Black and 3 Hispanic and none white - in a city where whites make up 45% of the population.
In a separate case decided today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the conviction and 18-month sentence for a Roxbury man arrested on gun charges after officers watched him in an eight-second video holding a Tec-9 semi-automatic gun at a friend's apartment. In that case, the court said Josiah Watkins got a fair trial and that his attorney then did not fail to do his job by not raising the racial-profile example raised in Dilworth's case, because Dilworth's argument did not come up until after Watkins was convicted.
The court added, however:
This does not mean the defendant will not be entitled to seek relief should it turn out that the Boston police indeed utilized Snapchat as an investigatory tool in a racially discriminatory manner.
In Dilworth's case, according to a summary in Ullman's order, a Boston officer simply sent Dilworth, who was using the name youngrick44, a Snapchat friend request in October, 2017 and Dilworth, without apparently trying to find out who he was, approved it. Ullman noted:
There is no evidence that BPD gained access to the "youngrick44" account by hacking into the account or using any means other than "friending" Dilworth while acting in an undercover capacity.
On Jan. 11, 2018, gang-unit officers closed in on Dilworth on Hollander Street in Roxbury and arrested him and, according to a BPD account, seized "a loaded .40 caliber Smith & Wesson MP40 semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine." Dilworth allegedly continued to post Snapchat videos, still unaware that one of his followers was actually an account used by gang-unit officers - who then arrested him again on May 11, 2018 in Egleston Square, this time allegedly in possession of "a loaded 9mm Ruger handgun with an obliterated serial number."
Ullman concluded that Dilworth's attorney had made a good enough case to warrant issuing a summons for the investigation forms to help prepare his defense.
On the record before this Court, the defendant has made an initial statistical showing of racial disparity and the Commonwealth has not offered any explanation as to why Dilworth was initially targeted for Snapchat monitoring. Because BPD has no policies, procedures or protocols for its use of social media as an investigative tool, the explanation cannot be that BPD was complying with a written policy. In the absences of a BPD policy or procedure and a representation of compliance with that policy or procedure, or some other explanation as to why BPD initially targeted the defendant, Dilworth, the public and this Court can only speculate as to why police initially selected Dilworth as a suspect to be "friended" on Snapchat.
Boston Police and the Suffolk County District Attorney's office appealed Ullman's order, but in a ruling filed in July of this year, a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court rejected the appeal.
Dilworth had originally been scheduled for trial this past December, but both sides agreed to postpone that. His case is next scheduled for a status update on Oct. 28.
Defense filing in Watkins case - has judge's Dilworth ruling at the bottom (7.5M PDF).
Ruling in the Watkins case (157k PDF).