'Rats215' Instagram account deactivated

Posted: November 10, 2013

INSTAGRAM HAS pulled the plug on an anonymous - but popular - account that was outing witnesses of violent crimes in Philadelphia, including one shooting victim whose case was handled by a secret grand jury.

The photo-sharing account, which used the name rats215, had posted photos, police statements and testimony involving 30 witnesses since February, the Inquirer reported Thursday.

Authorities have identified a 17-year-old who they believe is behind the account, and a search warrant was being prepared yesterday, the newspaper said yesterday.

Police and the District Attorney's Office are investigating the account as potential witness intimidation. Its anonymous creator, who in one post praised North Philly drug kingpin Kaboni Savage, has not been publicly identified.

Rats215 had been frequently updated and had 7,900 followers when it was shut down Thursday.

"Instagram has a clear set of community guidelines which make it clear what is and isn't allowed. This includes prohibiting content that bullies or harasses," an Instagram spokesperson said by email yesterday. "We encourage people who come across content that they believe violates our terms to report it to us using the built-in reporting tools next to every photo or video on Instagram."

Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the D.A.'s office, declined to comment on the investigation.

"We work with Philadelphia Police to investigate vigorously and thoroughly any attempt to intimidate any witness, to identify perpetrators and where appropriate, arrest and prosecute," she said by email. "Unfortunately, witness intimidation continues to be a very serious, ongoing problem in the city of Philadelphia. We know that witness intimidation happens every single day at the [Criminal Justice Center]."

An officer in Southwest Philly's 12th District discovered rats215 last week, according to the Inquirer. The posts had drawn dozens of "likes," and some comments advocated violence.

"Post some new rats," one person wrote in September. "I needa put a hit out on them."

On Twitter: @wbender99

Blog: ph.ly/DailyDelco

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