- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Juneau police used the social media site Facebook to try to find the next of kin for a man killed in a car crash last week. But they used the page for the wrong Justin Priest.

Police identified the victim as 33-year-old Justin Priest and found a Facebook page for a man with the same name, from Anchorage.

Police asked the Alaska State Troopers for help verifying the family’s relationship, or at least thought that’s what they were asking, the Juneau Empire reported (https://bit.ly/1rAJReu ). But a troopers spokeswoman told The Associated Press the message they received was for a death notification.

The wrong family - that of 29-year-old Justin Priest - was notified.

Juneau police have apologized for the mistake. They eventually discovered there were at least three Facebook profiles for men named Justin Priest, none of which belonged to the man who died.

Police Chief Bryce Johnson blamed the mix-up on poor communication and said he takes full responsibility.

“We did not believe just off of the Facebook information that that was the family,” he said. “It was just that we did not communicate that to the troopers. The troopers did exactly what we asked them to do. It was a communication error.”

The department plans to make changes to prevent this from happening again, he said. For example, they’re working on templates for a communication system used by law enforcement to differentiate between death-notification requests and requests to verify next of kin.

“The official request that went to troopers didn’t explain explicitly enough that we did not know if this was the next-of-kin family,” Johnson said. “So we’re working on making some templates of those transmittals that will make it absolutely clear that we’re not asking for a death notification, we’re asking for verification.”

Police will continue to use Facebook as a tool to find next of kin, though the department might consider guidelines around its use, he said.

In these types of cases, police usually check databases to see if they can find a relative or friend. If unsuccessful, they turn to other sources, including Facebook, to help find phone numbers or addresses for family.

The correct victim’s family was contacted the day after the death, police said.

___

Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, https://www.juneauempire.com

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