Facebook: Eyewitness Misidentification Almost Leads to Miscarriage of Justice


Lizz Aston was arrested based on her profile picture on Facebook. Curtis Rush/Toronto Star

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Facebook started out as a social network.  Now it has been turned into a potential weapon, in the hands of the wrong person(s).

Now information that has been collected and freely donated by facebook subscribers is being used against the donars.

Employees have fired by their employers because they have vented or aired their grievances against their employers on Facebook.

Potential employers are demanding that applicants disclose their Facebook password information.

In the instant case, police used Facebook to identify an alleged suspect in an alleged assault.  Eyewitnees identification is often inaccurate and incorrect and worst than that, when it is,  it will cause the police to hyperfocus on the wrong suspect and away from the actual culprit and it can result in the conviction of an innocent person.

Lizz Aston has never been in a fight in her life.

For one thing, she’s hardly a physical threat at 5-foot-2 and 115 pounds.

However, another woman claims Aston beat her last November at The Piston bar on Bloor St. W.

Aston, a 28-year-old artist, was charged two months later based solely on a Facebook photo and a generic description offered to police by the victim’s boyfriend.

Aston laughs when questioned about the charge, withdrawn by the Crown on March 27.

“I’ve never even been in a fight,” she says with a smile. “A friend of mine said that, ‘Even when Lizz gets angry she gets cuter.’ ”

The smile soon fades as Aston discusses the allegations, which prompted a court appearance and several thousand dollars in legal bills.

The Nov. 19 incident at The Piston began when two couples were involved in a dispute over a coat. Several blows were struck.

Aston said she knew nothing of this at the time.

On Jan. 5, after returning from a visit to Cuba with her boyfriend, Aston received an email from an officer pointing out that the victim identified her as the woman who struck her.

The victim is believed to have gotten Aston’s photo from the friends list on the bar’s Facebook page.

“I thought they might have been looking for someone that resembled the girl, with brown hair and bangs,” Aston said.

Police asked Aston to come in to speak with officers and she did so two days later. She was read her rights, finger-printed and processed.

Police took away a bobby pin and scarf, she said.

Aston said she tried to show police text messages proving she was at an art opening for a friend on the date in question, but the officer didn’t seem interested in that information.

She said she has only been in the bar about three times, the last time in September.

The officer who laid the charge was identified by Aston as Const. Kristal McCullough of 14 Division.

Toronto police have defended their actions.

“We believed there were reasonable grounds to arrest her,” said Const. Tony Vella. “The Crown has a higher threshold in that they have to have reasonable prospects of a conviction.”

When asked if there would be an internal investigation in the matter, police spokesman Mark Pugash said police do not comment on internal investigations.

The matter cost Aston dearly. Her lawyer, Mark Polley, waived the retainer and gave her a courtesy discount. Instead of owing around $8,000, she is left with a bill for $3,000.

“I had to move out of my apartment and moved in with my boyfriend to save the money to pay the bill,” she said.

However, her friends at The Piston are coming to her aid with a June 7 fundraiser.

“It’s a good way to deal with it and move on,” she said, adding she is unlikely to get what she really wants: An apology.

Polley questioned police use of a Facebook photo.

“Facebook is not a good way of identifying your suspect,” he said. “It’s inherently unreliable.”

Aston called the investigation “sloppy” and is now less trusting of police.

“I don’t feel I can go to them now,” she said. “I feel threatened by them.”

Asked to speculate about the victim’s state of mind, Aston said: “I think she just wanted to blame somebody.”

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