Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Moral Suasion II

Evan Guttman managed to get the NYPD to act

Thanks to the internet, a Sidekick was recovered and a lesson was learned. From the NYT (Bugmenot required.)

Evan Guttman had his computer, the Web and a few thousand people he had never met. That was enough.

Three weeks ago, Mr. Guttman went on a quest to retrieve a friend's lost cellphone, a quest that has now ended with the arrest of a 16-year-old on charges of possessing the missing gadget, a Sidekick model with a built-in camera that sells for as much as $350. But before the teenager was arrested, she was humiliated by Mr. Guttman in front of untold thousands of people on the Web, an updated version of the elaborate public shamings common in centuries past.

The tale began when Mr. Guttman's best friend Ivanna left her cellphone in a taxicab, like thousands of others before her. After Ivanna got a new Sidekick, she logged on to her account — and was confronted by pictures of an unfamiliar young woman and her family, along with the young woman's America Online screen name.

The 16-year-old, Sasha Gomez, of Corona, Queens, had been using the Sidekick to take pictures and send instant messages. She apparently did not know that the company that provided the phone's service, T-Mobile, automatically backs up such information on its remote servers. So when Ivanna got back on, there was Sasha.

Using instant messages, Mr. Guttman tracked down Sasha and asked her to return it. "Basically, she told me to get lost," Mr. Guttman recalled. "That was it."

You can read Evan's weblog of what happened. In a nutshell, the Army of Davids that picked up on this story put pressure on Sasha, her family, and the NYPD which caused them to act on a case which normally would not have garnered much police response.

Mr. Guttman also kept exchanging e-mail messages with Sasha and, eventually, her family. Then he heard from her older brother, Luis Pena, who said he was a military policeman and warned Mr. Guttman to let his sister alone.

Mr. Guttman posted the exchange.

Within days, he was contacted by dozens of active and retired soldiers. One said he had gone through basic training with Mr. Pena; several others told Mr. Guttman that making such a threat was a violation of military policy and promised to report Mr. Pena to his superior officers.

Mr. Guttman posted it all.

"I don't want people to be punished," he said last week. "I just want them to give the Sidekick back."

The girl's family was not pleased by the attention, especially the random visitors to their street. Though Sasha and Mr. Pena did not respond to instant messages and e-mail messages, their mother, Ivelisse Gomez, confirmed that her son was serving in the Army and had been in trouble with his superior officers after some of the visitors to Mr. Guttman's Web page called in to complain. She also said that Mr. Guttman's Web site amounted to harassment and said the family might sue him.

"They told him to come pick it up," said Ms. Gomez, speaking in the apartment of her building's superintendent last Thursday. She said she had bought the phone for $50 on a subway platform in Queens and had given it to her daughter. "We said he could have it if he gave the money we paid for it," she added.

Mr. Guttman, however, said that the offer to retrieve the phone was accompanied by a threat of physical injury. So after posting a warning that Sasha had one last chance to return the phone, he accompanied its actual owner, his friend Ivanna, to a Manhattan police station. Ivanna asked that her last name be kept private, as she was about to be married, and, she said, "I don't want to be famous for having lost my Sidekick."

"I was worried, because I had all this information on the phone — all these numbers and e-mails, personal and work," she said. "So I called Evan, because he's really good with computers."

People are not nice," she added, referring to Sasha. "Why?"

Last Thursday, the story of the lost Sidekick began meandering toward a conclusion. The police arrested Sasha and charged her with possession of stolen property in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor. (The police have possession of the Sidekick and plan to return it to Ivanna.) Sasha was released, but was not available to comment. Her mother offered a parting remark.

"I never in my life thought a phone was going to cause me so many problems," Ms. Gomez said.

Alls well that ends well, except for one thing. Evan has said that Ivanna does not want to press charges. Why? Probably because of the hassle which is the exact opposite attitude that her friend Evan has. Evan went through this ordeal because he wanted to right a wrong. As evidenced by their reactions, little Sasha and her cohorts need a permanent reminder of what is the right thing to do when you are in possession of someone elses property. Not pressing charges makes a mockery of Evan's effort. Let Sasha and whomever else was involved publicly acknowledge their guilt. Then let them off with a slap on the wrist.

P.S. Here are Evan's corrections (Update #51) to the NYT story:

Here is the New York Times FULL page article (with pic) about the story: Three notes to the story... When the mother says that they gave me an address to come pick up the Sidekick, that was the address I posted above...which turned out to be a fake address... Also, she mentions that they bought it at the subways station for $50... Yet they told me (among other stories) they got it from a cabby...and were trying to sell it to me (supposedly) at $100. Sad that the stories are still being made up. Lastly, it wasn't thousands that came to this was MILLIONS... On top of that, according to Google, there are now OVER 401,000 websites pointing to this one:


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