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Philadelphia police investigate Instagram account encouraging witness intimidation

Grae Stafford Freelance Photographer
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An anonymous Instagram account based in Philadelphia, Pa. that has outed 30 witness in criminal court cases since February has been shuttered.

Until its closure, the account “rats215” — which boasted 7,900 followers — had been updating it almost daily. Philly.com reports that in one post, evidence, including photos, of a 19-year-old shooting victim were posted. The case in question was being handled by a secret grand jury. In another, photos were posted that appeared to be taken in court when a witness was taking the stand to testify.

The anonymous user posted over 150 photos. Other Instagram users raved about the photos, egging on the account: “Post some new rats. I needa put a hit out on them.”

The user also posted on one picture praising North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage, who was sentenced to death in June after killing 12 people and setting off a firebomb that left four children and two women dead.

District Attorney office spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson refused to comment on the ongoing investigation, but said witness intimidation was a “very serious, ongoing problem.”

Investigators are now examining the account as they try to discover how the user acquired the sensitive information.

Witness intimidation has forced the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to give grand juries with much stricter rules regarding the disclosure of witness information, but even with these safeguards, in an open court, names and often photographs are  routinely available.

“People feel they can hide behind a name,” Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives told Philly.com. “It’s a challenge we’re facing, and a challenge we’re attempting to work through. These actions shoot an arrow through the heart of the criminal justice system, placing victims and witnesses at risk. ”

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