A Snapchat filter is being credited as part of a student’s crafty takedown of a California police officer who was allegedly trying to hook up with a teenage girl.
Ethan, a college student in San Francisco, told NBC Bay Area that he turned to digital vigilantism after a friend confided in him about a sexual assault they had experienced as a child.
The 20-year-old said he was angry and decided to take his frustration to social media.
Using Snapchat’s gender-swap filter, he took a picture of himself as a woman. The in-app photo editor instantly transformed his facial features, giving him a full head of long black hair and a touch of makeup around his eyes.
He then created an account on popular dating app Tinder for his new identity, whom he called Esther.
Soon after, he matched with a man named Rob, and a message landed in his inbox.
“I believe he messaged me: ‘Are you down to have some fun tonight?’ And I decided to take advantage of it,” Ethan told NBC.
According to the San Jose Police Department, the man asked Esther to switch to Snapchat at some point, where “they discussed her being 16 years old and chatted about engaging in sexual activity.”
Messages sent between two parties on Snapchat are automatically deleted, and screenshotting text or images will notify the person on the other end. Knowing this, Ethan had to tread lightly when communicating with Rob on the app. He said anytime he wanted to save portions of the conversation, he would turn his phone on airplane mode and grab what he could.
“In case he blocked me,” he said.
Messages exchanged between 20-year-old student Ethan, posing as a teen girl, and a man he met on Tinder.
Eventually, Ethan said he started messaging Rob through another app, Kik, where he told the man that he was 16 years old. Ethan said that detail didn’t seem to bother him.
“We started texting on there and got a lot more explicit,” he said.
“Through the messages, on purpose, I would just get these little bits of information about him so it would be easier to track him down, for the police to track him down.”
The two messaged for more than 12 hours. Once he collected a number of screenshots, Ethan said he sent the files to Crime Stoppers.
San Jose police later arrested 40-year-old Robert Davies, who they identified as a police officer stationed in San Mateo.
Police executed a number of search warrants on phones and computers belonging to the suspect as well as at his residence.
Robert Davies, 40, has been arrested and charged in connection with an investigation involving a minor in San Jose.
The suspect was charged with contacting a minor to commit a felony and has been placed on paid administrative leave.
“This alleged conduct, if true, is in no way a reflection of all that we stand for as a department and is an affront to the tenets of our department and our profession as a whole,” San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer wrote in a statement to NBC.
“As San Mateo police officers, we have sworn an oath to serve and protect our communities. I can assure you that we remain steadfast to this commitment to serving our community with ‘Professionalism, Integrity, and Excellence.’”
The Snapchat filter has inspired a number of catfishing pranks since being added to the app, but it has also come under fire for problematic gender representation and has been accused of being transphobic and sexist.
However, Medium has reported that the filter has driven a sharp increase in downloads across all platforms since its release in early May.
Ethan, who is not using his last name out of fear of retaliation, said it’s the first time he’s done something like this and that it will also be his last.
“I was just looking to get someone,” he said. “He just happened to be a cop.”
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