Pullman rapist uses social media to claim innocence
Despite a life prison term, a convicted Pullman rapist continues to share his thoughts through a Twitter account and has relied on YouTube to proclaim his innocence. His use of social media illustrates a problem prison officials are mostly unable to control.
A life in prison has not silenced Christopher Jack Reid.
The former porn star and convicted Pullman rapist continues to share his thoughts with friends and others through an edgy Twitter account and has relied on YouTube to publish a lengthy series of videos that proclaim his innocence by arguing that the victim was manipulated by authorities into giving testimony filled with lies.
Reid, 31, is behind bars for the 2007 rape of a Washington State University student, and his continuing use of social media illustrates a problem prison officials are mostly unable to control.
Authorities want inmates to remain engaged with family and friends and have developed an email system that screens messages for inappropriate content. But social media present new potential problems, and authorities are monitoring them as much as possible for abuse.
So far, for example, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) has asked social-media giant Facebook to shut down 560 profiles of inmates for improper use and violation of the company’s own terms of service. Authorities have less leverage with other social-media sites, though.
Reid, who was known in the adult-entertainment industry as Jack Venice, was convicted of breaking into a WSU sorority with Kyle M. Schott, where both raped a woman while she slept.
Schott accepted a plea deal and was convicted of third-degree rape. Reid, however, was convicted by jury of second-degree rape.
He’s fought the conviction since it was handed down in Whitman County, studying Washington’s public-records laws, earning a paralegal certification and even suing the city of Pullman, claiming it improperly presented evidence in his case.
Despite being locked up without Internet access in Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Reid has turned to social media to make his case public.
Under the moniker JackVeniceXXX, Reid maintains Twitter and YouTube accounts where he presents evidence he claims proves he’s innocent of the rape. He also interacts with commenters and fans, answering their questions and providing additional information about the case.
The background of his Twitter page is a photo of Reid, standing shirtless. He describes himself as an “adult performer” in the account profile and tells readers the purpose of his account is to prove his innocence. But it doesn’t specifically note that he’s currently imprisoned for the rest of his life.
In September, Reid published a 23-part video statement on his case, making a show of crossing the victim’s name out in court records before holding them to the camera. He contends the victim was manipulated by police and prosecutors, whom Reid accuses of shoddy work, and that her testimony was false.
“I want people to see that I’m fighting,” Reid said in an interview. “Those videos have raised support that is beyond my imagination. I didn’t expect for what has happened to happen.”
But Reid is maintaining a social-media presence from behind bars without ever visiting the sites himself.
The only semblance of Internet access granted to Washington state’s prisoners is a program called JPay, a stripped down pay-per-use email service that allows inmates two-way email correspondence with approved family and friends. Reid said he uses a tablet to type his emails, then plugs it into the JPay computers to upload and send his messages.
Reid instructs his friends and family to maintain his accounts through JPay, email and over the phone.
Messages are reviewed by mailroom staff, just like letters, said Norah West, communication director for the DOC. Certain words or phrases are flagged.
Facebook policy prohibits anyone other than the owner of an account to update or change its profile, and inmates are unable to access the site from prison.
The policy effectively shuts down inmates’ Facebook accounts because a family member or friend must access those profiles to update them, West said. Facebook also shuts down convicted sex offenders’ accounts.
“Facebook’s Community Standards work to balance the needs and interests of a diverse, global population,” a Facebook spokesman said.
A Twitter spokesman said though the company is unable to ban a specific set of users, it is able to work with law enforcement if a user is using an account in violation of parole. YouTube’s terms of service also does not directly prohibit inmates from keeping accounts active by letting friends and family manage them.
Desmon Heck, a self-described “delivery guy and struggling actor,” maintains both Reid’s Twitter and YouTube accounts. The two met at a party when Reid was working as a porn actor in Los Angeles.
“It gets to me,” Heck said. “I feel like I should help in any way that I can. I get emotional just thinking about it.”
If the Department of Corrections sees an offender’s Facebook being updated, it notifies Facebook and the service is shut down.
“Our Intelligence and Investigations Unit becomes aware of these accounts through routine surveillance and intelligence-gathering,” West said. “We don’t have staff dedicated to social-media monitoring because there hasn’t been a need for that.”
David Makin is an assistant criminal-justice professor at Washington State University who focuses on the relationship between technology and policing. Although prisoners accessing the Web could result in the glorification of criminal behavior and harassment of victims, being Internet-literate is a vital skill for employability and, when used productively, it could benefit offenders, Makin said.
“Subsequently, if it can complement rehabilitation efforts, aid in promoting the pursuance of education and increase the development of skills necessary for subsequent employment, I see no issues,” Makin said.
Reid said the social-media use has helped his case. A family friend recently approached him and said he’d help cover his legal expenses, he said, and other friends and family who once doubted him are now on his side.
“I may never win in the courts of the justice system,” Reid said. “But there’s also the court of public opinion, which I’ve learned the hard way. It’s to show that I’m not just going to roll over and take this.”