Facebook helps people share and connect with others in their lives. It’s free and anyone can join — even the police.
At least eight students at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse were issued underage drinking tickets last month after La Crosse Police Department officers found Facebook photos of the students holding alcoholic beverages.
Adam Bauer, a 19-year old sophomore at UW–La Crosse, said it all began when he was sent a friend request by a “girl” on Facebook this fall. Bauer was unaware that he was connecting with an undercover police officer when he clicked the “accept friend request” button.
“After that, I was e-mailed by a police officer who told me to go down to the station,” Bauer said. “He told me it was no big deal, nothing to worry about and that I wasn’t in trouble.”
When he arrived at the station, Bauer said La Crosse police officer Al Iverson had printed photos from Bauer’s Facebook containing images of him holding a beer can.
“He said that if I didn’t cooperate and accept (an underage drinking ticket), there were other more expensive tickets he could give me, so I should just cooperate and tell my roommates to come down to the station, too,” Bauer said.
Iverson hasn’t said if he made the Facebook account, and he was not available for comment.
“Someone friends you, and you think they’re from one of your classes and you figure, ‘Hey, I’ve probably met them before,’ and you don’t think anything of it,” said Bauer’s roommate Tyrell Luebker, a 20-year-old sophomore at UW–La Crosse who also received a drinking ticket because of pictures of him on Bauer’s Facebook profile.
Chief Scott Rohde of UW-La Crosse University Police emphasized that his officers do not use Facebook to issue underage drinking tickets.
“We issue (tickets) for alcohol possession,” Rohde said. “We only ticket students when we send officers to investigate if we receive a tip or if they see students drinking in a dorm, academic building or outside.”
During interviews with police, both Bauer and Luebker admitted to drinking, according to the police report. But both denied that charge, saying they only confirmed their identities in the pictures.
“He had all these pictures laid out and asked, ‘Is this you?’” Luebker said. “He made me admit — like obviously it’s me, you can see that from the picture.”
When the time came for Bauer and Luebker to testify in court, they initially pleaded not guilty.
However, Luebker said the district attorney wasn’t able to accept their plea because the police report said they confessed to drinking.
“I wasn’t actually drinking out of the can in the pictures, I was just holding it,” Luebker said. “We never got a breathalyzer or anything. I think we could’ve won (if we didn’t go to the police station) because we could’ve proved reasonable doubt.”
Though the police also had photos of Bauer’s friends with alcohol, Bauer said they didn’t get ticketed because they didn’t come to the station and confess.
Ultimately, Bauer and Luebker pleaded no contest in municipal court on Nov. 18, and each received a $227 municipal fine for underage consumption of alcohol.
Both students agreed they were not aware the police had the power to ticket students based on Facebook pictures.
“No way, I never thought they could,” Luebker said. “It’s just a picture. I thought, ‘No one’s ever going to bust you for a picture.’ ”