Crime File: Global Gamer Community Tracks Down Xbox 360 Thieves

April 2, 2008 -
When his Xbox 360, Apple PowerBook and flat-screen TV were stolen in a recent break-in, Jesse McPherson (left) had no inkling that gamers from around the world would band together to hunt down the thieves.

Frustrated by what he said was a lack of police response, McPherson began a bit of his own sleuthing and found that someone had tried to sell his PowerBook at a nearby pawn shop. As the Philadelphia Daily News reports, the big break in the case came after McPherson's coworkers chipped in to buy him a new 360. When he logged on to Xbox Live, one of the thieves began taunting him and even left voice messages offering to sell the stolen console back to McPherson.

When McPherson posted the story of the brazen - but not especially clever - thief on Digg, the gaming community too notice and swung into action. Armed with the crook's Xbox Live GamerTag, they found his online photo collection, his self-made rap video on YouTube and even his real name, address and phone number.

The thief soon found himself targeted by an onslaught of gamers who filled his accounts with nasty messages and called his house continually. One gamer in England even posted an audio file of a conversation he had with the crook's mother. Eventually, the pressure became too great and McPherson's 360 and his PowerBook were returned to him. The police made a fingerprint match and were preparing to arrest two suspects.

GP: This story once again shows the impressive power of gamers for collective action. Daily News reporter Ronnie Polaneczky frets, however, about the potential for online vigilantism:
I'm glad that so many strangers rallied behind McPherson. But, I'll be honest with you - his story chills me. Vigilante justice can be chaotic and uncontrollable, whether it's conducted online or face-to-face...

On the other hand, what have we come to when a home invasion elicits what comes across as a shrug from police, instead of urgent action? And should we expect anything less than vigilante action as frustrated victims become technologically savvy enough to take justice into their own hands?

The local Fox affiliate, WTXF-29 has a video report on McPherson's case:


@ Simon Roberts

I wonder if it was fair and balanced because they weren't sure how the gaming community would react if it wasn't lol

@ Wookie

Heh, speaking of WoW betrayls I was an unlcky guy who had "mob justice" happen to because of my ex getting really pissed at me and spread some really nasty and very false rumors through WoW. I got off lucky with the rumors; they stayed with in her guild. Yay for childish actions! And damn the man man! Sorry coulnd't help it.

Back to the story at hand. It's great and all the guy got most of his stuff back; but "Internet Lynch mobs" make things worse for more than just the parties involved. Yeah wooh ends justifies the means but these things get out of control and out of control quick.

And to a few other whos say about celebrities and media giving better treatment in those cases, yes it's true. Celebrities tend to know powerful people (meaning people with crap loads of cash), and the media usaully doesn't report on flattering things and that usaully gets funding removed because of onsuing embarrassment.

hell hath no fury like Anon!

Glad the guy got his stuff back...

Police spend well over half their budget on crimes equivalent to littering while leaving such things as theft alone...

When the victim gives the police the name and address and video of the criminals and the police don't act until they get the stolen merchandise (returned by the criminal) with a finger print on it, then you might have a broken justice system...

and since the stuff stolen was worth well over 500 dollars this isn't petty theft...

@Loudspeaker "If you do the right thing and report the incident to police, hand them the evidence they need to catch they guy and get put off with, “we’re getting to it.” where is the responsibility line for law enforcement?"

Well it's a fair point... I think in a case like this you go to the media and shame tardy law enforcement into action. It really is their responsibility to follow up on evidence, and there's nothing like a bit of publicity to kick them into action.

Thereafter, or during, you do what Doctor Proctor says and contact your elected representative about the matter. They are the ones with the power to do something about an under performing police force. Change for the better will obviously take time, but better that than leave the problem unaddressed and have to do the Police's job for them time and again. Besides, you pay your taxes so these guys will do their job, they should earn that money and one way or another I'd make them. ;)


Constitutionally speaking, the police have no legal obligation to protect and serve you.

A State's failure to protect an individual against private violence generally does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause, because the Clause imposes no duty on the State to provide members of the general public with adequate protective services. The Clause is phrased as a limitation on the State's power to act, not as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security; while it forbids the State itself to deprive individuals of life, liberty, and property without due process of law, its language cannot fairly be read to impose an affirmative obligation on the State to ensure that those interests do not come to harm through other means.

DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (109 S.Ct. 998, 1989)

[It is a] fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.

Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981)

@ illspirit

I took at look at those cases you cited and I wanted to point something out about Warren in particular:

In Warren the segment you quoted is dicta, it's not part of the holding of the case or even an integral part of the reasoning leading to the conclusion. This means it has no precedential value at all, it simply the justice's opinion.

The HOLDING in Warren is that the police DO OWE a general duty to protect the public. However, in THIS case the police did not owe a specific duty to the individual plaintiffs.

Basically, these people called the police, the police showed up, took action they deemed appropriate and left. The victims sued on negligence grounds arguing that by beginning to take action the police created a "Special duty" between themselves [the police] and the victims.

The courts holding was that the police are not obligated to provide protection to any particular individual but that they are obligated to protect the PUBLIC generally.

Basically, if you are the victim of a crime you are entitled to protection as a member of the public, however you are not entitled to a police escort whenever you want to walk through a bad neighborhood.

I should also note that both DeShaney and Warren have been heavily criticized and distinguished in subsequent cases.

DeShaney in fact has been so distinguished and criticized it has, for all useful purposes, been overturned. So many exceptions that doctrine have been carved out by subsequent cases that it's virtually inapplicable.


Yes, the line from Warren is dicta, but it illustrated the point nicely. How does the holding contradict this? The general duty of the police to protect the public is something of a legal abstract or term of art. All this means is they must generally enforce the law, but no individual citizen (such as the plaintiffs in Warren) can sue them for failure to do so. Just as any given department of transportation has a general duty to build roads, but is under no obligation to build an expressway to your front door. See also: sovereign immunity.

Otherwise, the only people entitled to personal protection from the state are those under some type of direct, protective custody. Be it incarceration, witness protection, etc..

As for DeShaney being essentially "overturned," how does that explain Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005)?

Kinda made me wanna go YEAH ALRIGHT!!!! Thats some cooperation there fellas. Really makes me believe that the gaming community is no more the underdog. Keep it up all you guys. This is DaddaG signing out.

bad policework leads to vigilante justice.

This puts a smile on my face.

I should also add (for those too lazy too Google) that the Warren case wasn't about someone asking for a "police escort" to "walk through a bad neighborhood." It was about three women who were repeatedly raped and beaten in their own home for fourteen hours. During the first half hour or so, two of the women were on the phone with 911 while they watched the police stop in front of the house then drive off before they were discovered by the intruders..

Man we need Batman, time to dawn my second identity and paste batman stickers over my licenses.

I have always had this critical view of the police officers or people in power. I dont care what your title is, mayor, senator, chief of police, CEO, or lawyer, you are still human and still susceptible to all the foibles and fallacies of being human. Yeah ur a police officer, you want me to respect you? earn it. I this case they failed. I m betting the fingerprint thing was a way to save face. Judging by the evidence that was gathered they had more than enough to convict the person provided that any motions suppress the evidence would be nullified and well that shouldnt have happen in this case. But if the police do not even want a purse a case that has been laid out for them and they barely had to do any work then that just something is wrong with the system.

Does vigilante justice qualify here? I think so. If the police (or the governemt) dont want to take the responsibility when they should then expect people to start taking things into their own hands. Fortunately he did this in the right way. But now I m going to be waiting for when the person did right up to the last part. The person would keep going to the police but they turn him away so the person takes the law into his own hands and some horrible accident will occur. Then let the spin begin.

@ illspirit

You do have a point under no obligation is the police required to protect you.

"fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen."

They're made to protect society as a whole, and there for have no responcibility to the lone individual. I snagged that line From Warren vs District of Columbia.

one sec... did I just see... an intelligent news report... on FOX news?

what in the world is going on?!

This explains the mushroom headed guys falling out of the sky, Solid Snake finally coming out to Raiden and Max Payne suddenly able to hold a straight face today... the world is finally FUBAR!

i was kinda surprised to see this story was covered by fox. I was waiting for Jackass Thompson to show up saying GTA made ths guy steal the 360 or some other nonsense.

The difference between traditional mob justice and modern internet justice is that it's not yet possible to kill someone through the internet. So, this has my blessing.

As bad as it sounds, the best kind of justice is found at the end of a Cat5 cable.

"Uh...the only reason I believe your...uh... avatar, is holding this hearing is to learn how to get past the...uh...7th level of the...uh...the world of warcraft. Unfortnuately this hearing is only worth 2 xp points."


****!!!!!!!! wrong story. Wow i'm a moron.

This really wasn´t vigilant justice, because at the end it was reported to the athority.

Maybe there was online bullying, but the end was not to torment somebody, but to denunce a crook.

Those guys are my new heroes!


I'm aware of the circumstances of the Warren case. The dicta doesn't necessarily contradict the holding, but in your initial post on the matter it was easy to construe what you were posting as being the holding of the court. I just wanted to make sure people understood that it wasn't.

It should be noted that the Court has allowed for CRIMINAL PROSECUTION of police who fail to fulfill their protection of protection to the public.

Again the decision has been heavily criticized and distinguished. However, I do understand the court's logic.

Do you allow the creation of a "Special duty" to individual citizens? If so, how far does that duty extend? To victims of any crime? To victims of felonies? To victims of violent felonies? Victims of rape? Do you extend it to witnesses? What about family members of victims? Or people with a high potential to be victims? Its a tough call.

For the record, I said I understand the Court's logic. I very much disagree, I believe there should be a duty to individual victims that opens up the police to civil liability. I do question where we draw the line in such cases. In the Warren case the police CLEARLY violated their duty, but where is the line?

Some punks stole our Xbox 360, laptop, tv, katana, games (xbox and ps2), used detergent, and used dvds though. Sucked. Cops were no help.


I posted the circumstances to make it clear for those playing at home that this wasn't about someone asking for extraordinary protection of some sort. Being that you knew the details about the holding, I kinda figured you read the background. ;)

But, yea, maybe I'm oversimplifying things, but it still seems to me that the dicta does pretty much summarize the holding. No matter which way you slice the decision, the District was found to have no liability for protecting the individual plaintiff. As long as an officer is found to be doing something, somewhere, to protect the abstract public safety-- be it out writing traffic tickets or what have you --they have theoretically fulfilled their duty and owe you, as an individual, nothing.

As for criminal prosecutions for failure to protect, those are about as rare as winning the lottery. Barring "special relationships" such as people who are in custody, I would imagine that almost all prosecutions of this nature involve a civil rights or corruption statute and a willful refusal to provide protection. Generally speaking though, if you call the police and an honest mistake or lack of resources prompts a failure, there's really not much you can do outside of voting for a new mayor/sheriff/etc.. who will fix the problem.

At any rate, I totally agree with the courts here. Not only would an individual right to service or protection from the state be untenable from a logistical and fiscal standpoint, one would have to start with the absurd assumption that there is a right to be governed. After all, one can't exactly have government services without a government to provide them. Should a government cease to exist for whatever reason, who exactly would you enforce your right against? Likewise, it would be kind of hard to sue the nonexistent government in an equally nonexistent government court.

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@ Rhade

I thought hed said "****! Tear Gas!"
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