Family uses Internet for information in beating case

The Canadian Press ~ The News
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

justice/crime

The case of Dustin LaFortune is a mystery that stretches across three provinces.

Police have said very little about the man who was emaciated, burned and beaten when he was dumped at a Regina hospital after being missing for a couple of months.

But the man's family is sharing details on the Internet, even naming a person they consider a suspect and fielding questions from the public.

The case of Dustin LaFortune is a mystery that stretches across three provinces.

Police have said very little about the man who was emaciated, burned and beaten when he was dumped at a Regina hospital after being missing for a couple of months.

But the man's family is sharing details on the Internet, even naming a person they consider a suspect and fielding questions from the public.

That kind of online release of information, through Facebook or other social networking sites, could lead to legal trouble, one media lawyer warned Tuesday.

"There's this ability to be a publisher and to get information out there, but there are also some legal pitfalls that people who are doing this need to be aware of," said Daniel Burnett, a Vancouver media lawyer who also teaches journalism at the University of British Columbia.

"People need to be aware that if they're publishing something that might interfere with a criminal trial, that's a problem."

As of Tuesday, police had not even publicly confirmed LaFortune's identity. They issued a news release which said a 26-year-old man had been assaulted and dropped off at the Regina General Hospital's emergency department April 16.

They said the case is being investigated by the major crimes unit and the victim has been interviewed. No mention was made of any suspects.

LaFortune's relatives have started a Facebook page with photos of him lying in a hospital bed with burns, bruises and cuts on his body.

He moved to Calgary from Winnipeg two years ago to work for a moving company and disappeared in February.

The LaFortune family took to the Internet and started approaching media outlets. They appealed for help in finding the missing man and tried to verify reports he had moved to rural central Alberta.

They are now using the Internet to encourage people with information to talk to police. They're also asking for help in locating the man they believe put LaFortune in critical condition.

He "was held hostage, tortured, starved, repeatedly assaulted and mutilated" while being drugged, his mother Renee LaFortune writes on a Facebook page. She says one of his lips and his tongue were cut off, his weight dropped from 245 pounds to 87 pounds and he has suffered brain damage.

They have named and put up a photograph of the man they believe attacked LaFortune - a former roommate - and have talked online and in media interviews about what they believe happened.

Supporters have added to the discussion by putting up photos of a home rented by the man the family believes was the attacker. One supporter posted information about the alleged suspect's family tree. LaFortune's brother, Ryan, has started answering questions from supporters in an online forum.

For Burnett, the case is another example of how the Internet can circumvent official channels such as police agencies or media outlets to distribute information.

There is also a danger people putting such information online could face a range of penalties, Burnett said.

If they call someone a suspect and turn out to be wrong, they could be sued for libel.

If they release information that tips off a suspect or hampers a police investigation, they could be charged with obstruction of justice.

Police "have to be aware that information about an investigation may not be as secret as it once was, and so they have to be prepared to deal with it publicly," he said.

Organizations: Regina General Hospital, University of British Columbia

Geographic location: Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg Alberta

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments