Devin Hilton Falsely Accused by Citizen App of Starting Wildfire

When wildfire blazed near the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, an app called Citizen posted a photo of a homeless man, raising awareness of the crime and dangers in their area.

The app had offered $ 30,000 to anyone who could provide information leading to the man’s arrest. Tips flew in.

The police arrested one man – determined that he is not a suspect – and then arrested another, the authorities said on Monday. By Tuesday, Citizen had said the identification of the first man, Devin Hilton, was a mistake.

In a statement, the company said it regretted the release of the photo without consulting the relevant agencies. “As soon as we recognized this mistake, we immediately withdrew the photo and reward offer,” it said. “We are actively working to improve our internal processes to make sure this does not happen again. That was a mistake that we take very seriously. “

Jim Braden of the Los Angeles County’s Sheriff’s Department told a Spectrum News reporter that the Citizen app’s actions may be “catastrophic.”

Innocent people are constantly harassed by trolls and mislabeled criminals on the internet, with sometimes serious consequences. However, the Los Angeles incident highlighted the potential for businesses with hundreds of thousands of users to gather people around unsubstantiated tips and accusations.

The sheriff’s department did not respond to a request for comment.

Founded in 2017 in New York City, Citizen uses cell phone locations to alert its seven million users to security risks and potential criminal activity in their areas, including those that play out in real time with live discussions and footage from users who are in are the scene. In recent years, the company has expanded to include Los Angeles, Baltimore, and more than a dozen other locations.

Los Angeles County partnered with Citizen to create a contact tracking app during the pandemic.

On its website, Citizen says the app allows users to “learn the real story of local people” and, if possible, help resolve a situation.

“In the past you had to call the police to help,” they say. “Now you can use Citizen to broadcast live video and share relevant updates with others.”

The citizen is dependent on police, fire brigade and emergency radio transmissions and documents these on a card. It is also recommended that users document nearby crime scenes if they can safely stream from there.

After the devastating fire began Friday, Citizen received tips that police were looking for a person of interest, along with a photo of him, the company said in a statement. With a new product called OnAir, users have uploaded live neighbors interviews and live streaming videos on site. “OnAir is a new product with strict validation protocols that we did not follow,” the statement said.

Mr. Hilton could not be immediately reached for comment.

At a briefing with reporters on Monday, Los Angeles Fire Department chief Ralph M. Terrazas stated that the first person to be arrested for internet arson “turned out not to be a suspect.”

The second person, a 48-year-old man named Ramon Rodriguez, was arrested Sunday afternoon, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. It wasn’t clear if he had a lawyer.

“We feel like we have the right person,” said Chief Terrazas of the second man.

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