Man in ‘selfie’ photo wrongly accused of Denver home break-in

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DENVER -- We went to air February 7 with a story after police issued an alert about a man they accused of breaking into a home and taking a "selfie" while the woman who lived there put her children to bed.

The “selfie burglar” was accused of some pretty shocking crimes. It turns out the whole thing was a case of mistaken identity, and the man was not a criminal at all.

But the story went viral.

"We've got to catch this creepy guy,” said Nancy Grace. The queen of drama picked the story up on February 8. "Word to the wise, this has a text book serial killer's calling card," she said.

But it wasn't until February 19, two full weeks later, that Denver police acknowledged the mistake.

They now say the woman who called police thought the man in the picture on her cell phone was standing in front of her drapes in her home.

But when police went there they realized the drapes were different.

Though they aren’t certain, they suspect the man's photo ended up on her phone because on Facebook they have mutual friends in California.

FOX31 Denver found the man on Facebook and at his request we are not identifying him. Understandably he would only issue the following statement.

“While I do feel this story was mishandled by multiple entities, I do not wish to participate in any public stories. I have spent much of the last days in fear and based on the last two weeks I have no confidence in the way this story will be handled with or without my participation. I have taken great care to this point to keep my name away from this story and wish it remain that way for fear of any confusion with the original story.”

So what did happen?

Police records we uncovered show a day after the story aired, the man saw his image and immediately called police.

The report states, "A man called from California stating he was the person in the photo, but it couldn't have been him because he was in California."

For four days police failed to call him back and continued to run with the story.

On February 12 the man sends this email to the Denver police public information office.  He begs, “It's been four days, and the story is spreading. I’ve seen the story on local and national news. This letter serves as my notice of a full and visible retraction to fully repair my reputation.”

We contacted Denver police for comment, but we were told it was too late in the day Thursday to get answers to our questions.



  • Madchen Vapid

    As I recall, this story was first pumped by local media. To suggest that it just “went viral” is ludicrous. Local so-called journalists who don’t accept responsibility for all of the sensationalist hype and who suggest that scolds like Nancy Grace are primarily to blame relieve themselves of any culpability by writing, in obviously passive voice, “…it went viral.” Then, these same “news professionals” throw police under the bus in order to further distance themselves from the fact that in “breaking the story,” the journalists themselves were primarily responsible for getting this man “accused.” This guy should hire an attorney and sue the news sources (journalists, producers, web producers, news station, and news station parent company) that wrongfully perpetuated this story. Until so-called “news people” start getting punished, criminally and civilly, for their professional malpractice, “stories” like this one will continue to ruin people’s lives and waste taxpayers’ money while police follow false leads suggested by yellow journalists.

    • Steve Stacy

      And the poilce department are off the hook because they didn’t admit their mistake? News people only go by what they are told, most do not make the news up. Unless the police send a memo that the story is in fact wrong and never follow up with the press on any questions, what other choice does the press have except to publicize what the police are calling a possibly dangerous person.

      • Madchen Vapid

        Of course, the police are culpable. They are using local media, and local media is getting use. The relationship is symbiotic. This line, “For four days police failed to call him back and continued to run with the story,” completely articulates the relationship. If this statement is factual, it should be written: “For four days police failed to call him back and LOCAL MEDIA continued to run with the story,” which hyped the story into a viral phenomena. Instead, the local media (that was no doubt fed the story by police) shift blame from news people onto cops. Of course, this doesn’t absolve the police. But the blame-shifting among these too parties is utterly transparent. Further, this sentence from the story, “We contacted Denver police for comment, but we were told it was too late in the day Thursday to get answers to our questions,” distances local media from it’s obvious culpability. You ask, “What other choice does the press have except to publicize what the police are calling a possibly dangerous person?” First, they can use better discretion in publishing rumor by genuflecting to police authority. Second, they can correct the record after the fact. Third, they can accept responsibility in perpetuating erroneous information. Fourth, they can tell the story truthfully, rather than blame-shifting (as is happening here). This story attempts to provide cover for local news people and companies who make money from reporting falsities. Hopefully, the victim if this journalistic (and law enforcement) malpractice sues these hacks.

  • Sam Fetters

    And thus is the reason one shouldn’t act as judge, jury & executioner after simply reading published “facts”. The police and media continue to trample the rights and liberties of American citizens. Now with the popularity & speed of social media, those rights are liberties are ever more important.

    Thanks to the police and the media, who are willing to spin hunch as fact, and the “freedom loving” American public who are willing to accept that hunch as fact – there are now two victims in this story. The original burglary victim, and now the wrongly accused.

    Cops are lazy and will take look for the “easiest” solution. It’s why they’re often wrong.

  • Madchen Vapid

    It’s pretty pathetic that this story was penned by an attorney turned journalist. But, this familiar brand of news prose is the Lingua franca of American journalistic trade craft.

    Ever wonder about Honesty/Ethics in Professions? Here is a recent Gallup Poll on the subject.

    Here are some percentages relevant to this story.

    Police Officers 54%
    Newspaper Reporters 21%
    TV reporters 20%
    Lawyers 20%

    I rest my case.

  • Madchen Vapid

    Steve said: So the media is to blame because the police can’t do their job right? How would is the media to know it’s a false story if the police don’t correct them.

    Madchen replies: It’s common journalistic practice to use more than one source for a story. By not doing so, journalists perpetuated demonstrably false information. If there is doubt, don’t publish the story. Media deference (one of my points) and police-media cooperation (one of Sam Fetters’ point) is problematic. Hence, my accusation about journalistic malpractice. If this type of obvious collusion was called out and reinforced as ethically and legally inappropriate, the media and police would probably act more responsibly. However, if current practice is any indication, media and law enforcement behavior will probably continue to erode in pursuit of sensational stories fed by police to deferent journalists and a docile public. Dumb police, dumber media, dumbest citizenry. But, it sure sells the soap, doesn’t it? Which is the media’s primary goal while creating collateral damage (an additional victim) in the pursuit of some public safety goal. Alas, I am old enough to remember when media types were skeptical of authority. “Freedom loving” American public” indeed, Sam Fetters.

    • Don Pasqueda

      Hey Madchen, nice deconstruction. Here’s what I find terribly amusing. First, police — professional investigators — determine that a “selfie” was the most plausible reason to explain the unknown picture on the woman’s phone. Whaaaa? Then news people — professional journalists — were silly enough to thoughtlessly report Denver Police conclusions. I mean, wow! Really? Then, 9News and FoxNews (a’hem) consumers — amateurs (at best) — think that these “authorities” keep us safe from the creepsters (hypothetical ones in little Stevie’s addled mind)? I can’t stop laughing! FoxNews: Unfair, Unbalanced, Untrue and Un-f-ing-real! Bravo!

    • Steve Stacy

      Does the truth hurt you? It’s people like you, who have nothing better to do than complain about everything, that are ruining society. You say the media is wrong for reporting a false story, which I don’t disagree with. But had they not reported it and it was true, and another possible victim had been harmed, you would still complain. Stop riding the fence. Nobody’s home was burgeled, the lady thought it was so she reported it. The only victim is the poor guy in California who can’t get a response from the police, because they don’t want to look bad.

      • Don Pasqueda

        The truth will set you free, Steve. Unfortunately, it seems to me that your close mindedness keeps you captive, afraid and very far from the truth so long as you consume FoxNews.

  • Will Smith

    “We contacted Denver police for comment, but we were told it was too late in the day Thursday to get answers to our questions.”

    Wow! I guess I was wrong about Fox 31 and their inability to accurately report on a story. I mean, just look at the care they have taken to clear up this mistaken identity, or get to the bottom of why DPD took so long to contact the victim, and contact Fox 31 to explain the confusion and how they were no longer investigating this as a crime. Fox 31 sure has shown me that I was wrong to accuse them of grandstanding, and sensationalism. I’m a changed viewer now.
    Well, maybe I would be if they bothered to update the story, but I’m sure they have a new Hot story to chase, and claim “we are the first to bring you this breaking news”.

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