Online sleuths aid probe into gay couple's beating

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Police searching for a group of suspects in the beating of a gay couple say they got an assist from social media users, and a defense lawyer said Wednesday that some of them were turning themselves in for questioning.

A security video of the group strolling downtown was posted by police Tuesday and set the online community to work. Within hours, a Twitter user posted a photo of the well-dressed men and women gathered at a restaurant. Another got help figuring out which restaurant, used Facebook to find people who had "checked in" there and started matching faces to names.

"This is how Twitter is supposed to work for cops," Philadelphia police Detective Joe Murray tweeted late Tuesday as the crowd-sourced investigation exploded online. "I will take a couple thousand Twitter detectives over any one real detective any day."

The victims, a gay couple in their late 20s, were held down, punched and beaten after they bumped into a group of about a dozen people Thursday at about 10:45 p.m. The larger group hurled gay slurs as the men were pummeled, police said.

The attack occurred just blocks from what city residents affectionately call "the Gayborhood." One man was left with a broken eye socket and a wired jaw after three days in the hospital, while his partner had bruises and a black eye.

The defense lawyer, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he has not been formally retained, suggested the fight could have stemmed from random contact, not as the result of a hate crime. He said he was contacted by a potential client early Tuesday, before police posted the video. He said the group was largely comprised of working professionals.

Philadelphia police routinely seek the public's help with criminal investigations through Twitter, YouTube, a department website and other online forums.

Murray, a Twitter pioneer within the department who is prone to effusive shout-outs, later updated his Wednesday night tweets to thank the detectives involved and note that no one had been arrested.

"Let's be clear here," he tweeted. "Detectives have done a ton of work and have a lot more to do. (Not a law & order episode)."

Officer Christine O'Brien, a police spokeswoman, says security videos and social media interactions have helped the department solve many cases over the years.

"While it's great how many people are coming forward — and we want to encourage them to do that — it's not unusual," she said.