Arrested by Spartanburg County deputies in South Carolina earlier this month, 29-year-old David Fuentes and 29-year-old Matthew Cowan were taken into custody for sending threatening messages through Facebook to an unnamed man. However, no words were transmitted through the Facebook messaging service, only graphical emoji icons.
Specifically, the duo both sent the emoji for a fist, a handing pointing in the shape of a gun and an image of a white ambulance. Allegedly, the intention of the images indicated that the two men were planning on beating up the unnamed man and potentially sending him to the hospital in an ambulance.
Of course, this wasn’t the only incident that led to the arrest of Fuentes and Cowan. An incident report filed during May 2015 indicated that the Fuentes and Cowan attempted to assault the unnamed man at his home. The emoji messages were basically the final straw that led deputies to arrest the two men and charge both with stalking charges. Both men now face up to five years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Speaking about the increased use of social media in investigations, Lt. Kevin Bobo of the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office encouraged parents to “educate themselves on the symbols their kids are using and also monitor that use.”
This isn’t the first case of emoji playing a significant role in an arrest. During January 2015, 17-year-old Osiris Aristy was arrested by the NYPD after publishing several Facebook messages with multiple gun emojis pointing to a policeman emoji. That was in combination with written threats within his series of threatening Facebook messages. When Aristy was eventually arrested, police found a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson firearm in his home as well as an amount of pot exceeding 25 grams, likely packaged for distribution.