Usually when you make a dumb joke, nobody really does anything. They just ignore it, or at most, they boo you off stage. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has some harsher critics who just might send in helicopters and snipers.
Vice has shed some new light on a disturbing story of police overreaction that took place earlier this year.
First, as the event was reported by the Los Angeles Times and others in March: 20-year-old Dakkari McAnuff "allegedly threatened to shoot someone in exchange for 100 retweets" and posted a picture of himself pointing a rifle off a balcony. The LAPD began an investigation the next morning, discovered McAnuff's identity, arrested him for making criminal threats, and set a $50,000 bond. The New York Daily News described the man as a "bozo" and was "glad this guy's behind bars." Good work, boys.
Except McAnuff is telling his side of the story now, and he alleges that it was all a joke put on by him and a group of friends who call themselves the MAD Pranksters—and that the LAPD knew that from the get-go, but came after him like he was a real killer anyway.
A lot of the reports at the time of the incident omitted a significant fact that disrupted the straightforward narrative about the threat followed by the arrest the next day. McAnuff actually posted three pictures: the rifle (which was a toy), a man lying on the ground pretending to be dead, and then a picture of McAnuff handcuffed outside an LAPD squad car with an officer present. That cop was obviously in on the joke. This happened well in advance of the actual arrest.
The MAD Pranksters point out that they had direct contact with an LAPD officer—the one who allowed them to use his car as a prop in the final tweet—and say they told him exactly what they were doing. The gun was obviously fake, and so was the death scene, they argue. In other words, the LAPD ought to have known there was no true threat.
[Zane] Abbasi also claims that before his friend McAnuff was arrested, one of the detectives walked into the office where they were being detained, saw Moe—who played the corpse in the prank—and said, "Oh, look, there's the dead guy."
The Pranksters' account holds that more than twelve hours had elapsed between the first tweet and the arrest—enough time, arguably, to contact the officer in the third tweet and to have a firearms expert determine whether the gun pictured was real. According to the LAPD's statement, the officers discovered the tweet at 9:30 AM—and it was time-stamped from the night before. Even so, the arrest wasn't made for another three and a half hours, according to Abbasi. So it seems that the department wasn't treating the case as an emergency.
Abbasi claims that after they were all taken to the precinct an officer told him, "You were on my scope earlier….If you had walked on that balcony with that toy rifle I would've blown your head off."
The pranksters criticize the fact that the cops diverted a lot of resources to respond to an obvious gag, but the LAPD maintains that "the tweeted picture was considered a credible threat."
McAnuff's jest may have been the social media equivalent of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, but the increasingly regular headlines about police militarization-gone-bad aren't very funny, either.