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How social media helped identify Grand Rapids riot suspects

Posted at 11:01 PM, May 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-30 23:01:05-04

One year after the Grand Rapids unrest downtown following the death of George Floyd, Fox 17 sat down the Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker about where the arrests stand and how social media played a part in catching some of the people who damaged the city.

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“For the most part these are young individuals, they’re teenagers or young adults, maybe not surprising in terms of what you saw in the video yourself,” Becker said when explaining who has been charged. “We’ve got ten pending trial somewhere in the system, either getting ready for a conference or they’re past that and are set for trial. We’ve had eight plead, one, he failed to appear for his preliminary exam and then two we are looking at forensic exams.” Becker says in all 22 people have been charged, 21 adults and one minor. Becker says the ones who have pleaded have all at-least pleaded to “rioting”.

Becker admits that the extra eyes through social media give his department a lot more to work with, but also, a lot more work. He says they had two Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, and Grand Rapids had four detectives all combing through the heavy volume of footage they received, “From news organizations, the security cam videos. Everybody was submitting Facebook posts in the tips we got. That was a tremendous amount of manpower and time to go through all that and just watch it. Because you can’t go fast, if there’s an hour of video, you’ve got to watch that whole hour just because you don’t want to miss anything.”

Becker says the penalties so far are mostly fines and probation along with restitution. “A lot of people thought they were going to prison. A lot of them are not going to prison, just because their sentencing guidelines don’t call for it. They’re first time, they haven’t been in trouble with the law before for a lot of these cases. So I think that was the initial impression, ‘Yep, we're going to send a bunch of people to prison’, that’s just not happening. We’re holding them accountable and they’re getting sentenced.”

As for talk of rioters coming in from outside of the area, Becker says the evidence shows otherwise. “Everyone we charged was pretty much local, I think the furthest is Kalamazoo maybe, Kalamazoo and Lansing. Pretty much everyone’s got local addresses. So we heard the same things. We heard people were getting bused in and I’m not saying that didn’t happen, because we just can’t prove it. We haven’t had the evidence and if they’re doing it, they hid their tracks well enough.”

While last year’s events were so tough on so many, Becker is taking some positives out of it with the end results. “I’m very proud of the work our office did and along with Grand Rapids Police Department. And also the community, the way the community came together, I mean, coming down here the next morning and seeing everybody clean-up. I think, to some extent, that’s been a blessing in terms of, to see how many people really care.”