Four men are alleged to have intimidated a witness in an unprecedented case in the city where images, video and audio of a virtual court proceeding were broadcast via social media.
It’s alleged that on February 23, 2021, Instagram accounts under the names ‘thehood6ix’ and ‘thewarinda6ix’ posted images of a witness testifying during a Zoom court proceeding for a murder case.
The next day, the same Instagram accounts, including ‘straightouttathe6ixtv’ and ‘Keep6ixsolid’ posted an audio recording of the witness from the court hearing.
Intelligence Services Superintendent Paul MacIntyre says the arrests will show that police are serious about people who disrupt court proceedings.
“Each culprit thought he was shielded by the anonymity of their computer, but our investigators worked hard to look through their screens and identify them,” he said. “I am proud of their work and this should send a message to anyone else considering such illegal actions. We won’t stand for it.”
Over 250 people attended the hearing held on Zoom because of pandemic restrictions. Just like any other in-person court proceeding, it can’t be recorded and shared. In this case, a publication ban was placed on the proceeding meaning that no information could be published about the case.
“This is a high profile case just because of the accused, his social media following and gang association,” said Homicide Detective-Sergeant Amanda Thornton. “That’s why so many people were watching and chiming in during the court session.”
Intelligence Services Detective Lisa Belanger said this is the first time that Toronto police has investigated a Zoom trial being recorded and posted on Instagram.
“On a few occasions, someone has snuck in a phone into court and taken a photo of people testifying or witnesses,” she said. “It is usually the accused they take a picture of because they like to show support for their guy and then they post it to their Instagram.”
In this case, the audience interrupted the Zoom court proceeding.
“They were disrupting the court by yelling out gang words,” said Belanger. “The next day, these videos, audio and pictures of the witness was posted. It took quite a while to get all the information on the main accounts that posted and who we believed were operating them. The only way we can prevent this happening again is hopefully through deterrents showing that we will arrest you,” Belanger said, noting the investigation is continuing.
She said someone can be charged for sharing court proceedings online, even if they didn’t take the photo or record the video.
“They made it go viral and that can affect the trial, the witness’ life and people in the future who have been asked to testify via Zoom,” she said.
On November 4, police executed search warrants at addresses in Toronto and Brampton and arrested the individuals that are alleged to have posted the content.
Kyle Stephens, Mohammed Abdalla and Afrah Mohamed of Toronto and Ryan Taylor of Brampton face a total of 21 charges including Obstruction of Justice, Intimidation of a Justice System Participant and Breach of Publication Ban.
While executing the warrant at Mohamed’s residence, it’s alleged that a firearm with a high-capacity magazine and ammunition were located.
He faces four additional charges.
They will make their next court appearance on December 14.