A couple living in Commerce urged the importance of being careful when posting on social media after they claim a warrant was wrongfully issued for an arrest on the basis of a Facebook comment.
Christopher Youngman and Nakesha Weber shared their story in a phone interview with the Commerce Journal. Weber’s Facebook post about the incident got a fair amount of attention on the social media platform, being shared upwards of 300 times.
Weber recounted their experiences of July 21. She says that the pair were driving home to Commerce from a family gathering with their nine-year-old daughter when their vehicle was pulled over by Collin County Sheriff’s officers.
“We got pulled over about 25 minutes from home,” Weber said. “The officer took Chris’ ID back to his vehicle and was back there for about 15 minutes. Then a few more police cars showed up and we knew something was wrong.”
Weber said the officers informed Youngman that he had a warrant out for his arrest in Hunt County. From there he was taken to the jail in Collin County and stayed there for about eight hours before he could be bailed out. Weber said the bail process was made more difficult as Youngman was labeled a flight risk due to his employment with an interstate moving company. $700 later, Youngman was free to go.
The next day on July 22, the charge of theft of property valued at greater than $100 but less than $750 against Youngman was dropped, with the official court motion from the office of Hunt County Attorney Joel Littlefield citing “insufficient evidence.”
This whole affair came as a surprise to both Youngman and Weber, as Youngman asserts his innocence. But Weber says she believes she has an idea as to how he was implicated in a crime.
“The only thing I can think of is that I tagged him in a Facebook comment,” Weber said.
On April 11, 2018, the Commerce Police Department’s official Facebook page posted surveillance video from the local Walmart attempting to enlist the public’s help in identifying a suspect that stole a television from the store on March 17 of that year. As of Tuesday afternoon, the video is still visible on the department’s page. The post itself is showing that there have been 56 comments made on the video, but for an unknown reason only a handful comments made after Youngman’s arrest are visible.
Weber, wanting Youngman to see the video, innocuously tagged him in a comment. Weber believes it was her wording that was an issue.
“I tagged him in a comment that said ‘[@]Christopher Youngman walked out with a whole tv [laughing emoji],’” Weber said. “I was just tagging him and telling him what happened, but I think people thought I was saying Chris did it.”
The video shows a suspect in a black jacket and a dark baseball cap grab a flat screen television out of an unattended shopping cart and disappear behind an aisle. The suspect’s face is briefly visible in the video, and by comparing with photos of Youngman, there appear to be significant differences in the appearances of the two.
Weber said that she and Youngman had reached out to the Commerce Police Department since the incident seeking answers as to why the warrant was filed. They say that all they were told was that Youngman was “identified by an anonymous tip.” Weber and Youngman said that they have gotten no more answers since.
The incident has placed serious financial stress on the family. In addition to the bail money, Youngman says he missed out on a week’s worth of pay, as he missed a flight for work during the time he was in jail. He also says that they will be late on rent due to the financial strain. Weber says she feels for their nine-your-old daughter, who witnessed the arrest. “I hate that she had to see him taken away in handcuffs like that over nothing,” Weber said.
When asked for any light that could be shed on the subject, Commerce City Manager Darrek Ferrell stated on Tuesday: “We have not received a complaint on this issue, so while we respect the concerns of our citizens, there is nothing for us to add right now.”
Ferrell did give some insight Wednesday on the police department’s protocol for filing a warrant.
“Individual steps of the process may differ depending upon the alleged offense and other practical considerations. Typically, the warrant process involves several parties including the investigating officers, a prosecutor to research and present evidence and a judge to review the evidence for sufficient justification of an arrest,” Ferrell said. “The City of Commerce Police Department values and respects our system of due process, as well as the public servants who serve our City as officers, prosecutors and throughout the courts.”
In all, Youngman says he wants are answers, and he hopes that something good could come out of all this
“I hope this can bring to light to be careful how you word things on social media,” Youngman said. “This has all been extremely embarrassing and humiliating to say the least.”
Youngman also took issue with how the situation was handled, saying that it could have been resolved much easier.
“I went to police about an expired registration on my car on Aug. 22, 2018, and the warrant for my arrest was issued on Aug. 31, 2018,” Youngman said. “They had my address, they knew where I lived. They could have just come to me and we could have handled this a lot better, but that’s not how it worked out.”
Weber said this week that they are considering taking legal action against the city, and are seeking legal counsel.
The office of Hunt County Attorney Joel Littlefield issued a statement Tuesday about the incident.
“The Commerce Police Department investigated and presented the theft case to our office. Initially unable to identify the suspect, the Commerce Police Department sought the help of the public and posted the surveillance video to social media,” the statement read. “The Commerce Police Department received information from the public that they believed identified the suspect as the individual responsible for the criminal offense. Recently, our office determined that insufficient evidence exists that the suspect identified by the Commerce Police Department committed the offense and has dismissed the charges against him.”
In a phone interview with the Commerce Journal on Wednesday, Littlefield gave some insight into the process of issuing a warrant.
“It starts when the law enforcement agency submits their case,” Littlefield said. “A police department submits their entire case file and all relevant evidence and then our office reviews it and makes a determination from there.”
Littlefield added that the decision to issue a warrant is “based on facts and the evidence presented.”