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Teenager Commits Suicide After Police Launch Social Media Campaign Against Him

When a teenager failed to appear in court on substance abuse charges, the police began cyber-bulling him on Facebook.
 
 
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Nineteen-year-old Pullman, Washington, resident Andrew Cain took his own life on Saturday. Now his sister, Alise Smith, is asking for an apology from the local police department who allegedly cyber-bullied the young man just days beore his death.

Cain was reportedly wanted for controlled substance charges and failure to appear in court. According to local media, a Latah County, Idaho, Sheriff's Office deputy assigned to Cain's case posted a photo of the teenager on the Sheriff's Office Facebook page, along with this message:

“We have decided that Andrew Cain is no longer the Wanted Person of the Week… he is the Wanted Person of the Month of June. Congratulations!"

Smith, Cain's sister, says the officer also harassed the teenager with private Facebook messages. Meanwhile, false rumors about Cain began circulating across social media, all sparked by the Sheriff's Office initial posts.

"It all exploded into people sharing it and rumors starting about other things that Andrew had done, crimes that he has never committed," Smith told KLEW, "And people started harassing him."

Smith says Cain texted her earlier in the week, saying he felt like putting a bullet in his head. 

"The text came along with a screen shot of a private Facebook conversation from Sergeant Doug Andersen to Andrew saying that if he turned himself in, he would give him a copy of the wanted poster, basically teasing him," she said. 

According to KLEW, Smith stressed that she is not blaming the Latoh County Sheriff's Office for Cain's suicide, but "believes the Facebook activity was belittling and she hopes it doesn't happen to anyone else."

Latah County Sheriff Wayne Rausch told KLEW that Facebooking wanted posters has helped procure arrests, but understands that this particular post was inappropriate.  "It has never been my policy to include editorializing in media releases pertaining to the location and apprehension of persons wanted by the court," Rausch said in statement. According to the KLEW, he apologied to Smith personally.

"That he felt necessary to end his life over facing consequences is tragic," Rausch said in a statement 

Smith told the  Associated Press she grasps the usefulness of posting wanted posters to Facebook, but felt the "congratulations" comment and the private messages were an 'abuse of power.'

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne