A suspect who kicked a smoking gas canister back at police in the aftermath of Trump's Phoenix rally may have been located and arrested because of an extensive discussion of the incident on Reddit, as well as the local news. He now faces three felony charges of assaulting police officers.
Reddit is a social media platform that allows users to create groups around a theme or topic. The day after the rally, a user named "gotyourqueen" posted in the Phoenix group. The post was titled, "I'm the guy in the blue shorts who got shot in the crotch last night. AMA!" — a Reddit abbreviation for "ask me anything."
The Arizona Republic first reported on the Reddit posts on Thursday night, after a Phoenix Police Department spokeperson told media outlets in an email that 29-year-old Joshua Cobin of Scottsdale had been booked for three felony counts of aggravated assault on police and one count of unlawful assembly. Sergeant Jonathan Howard wrote that "many of you will recognize this man as he has posted images and admissions to his crime on social and local media outlets."
In video from Tuesday night, a protester wearing blue shorts, a black T-shirt, and a gas mask kicks a smoking canister toward a line of police officers in riot gear. After backing up a few steps, he's immediately hit in the groin area by a pepper ball fired from the line of officers. Another demonstrator helps him up.
In the Reddit thread, the user posted a photo of himself before the rally as proof of his identity as the person who was hit by the pepper ball. He also fielded questions from other Reddit users about the rally, telling them he was there "[b]ecause I despise Trump and wanted to vocalize my displeasure with him and his supporters. Number one thing that drives me to protest is a sense of patriotic duty to defend our country's ideals."
He also said that added, "I was ready for tear gas yes..I didn't think it would be necessary, but here we are."
In response to someone asking why he kicked the canister, the user wrote, "Because I believed we had the right to peacefully assemble and that right was being violated. I knew once I kicked it that I was going to be a target for rubber bullets or pepper balls so it wasn't a huge surprise. It just knocked the wind out of me and of course brain went into 'protect the genitals' mode."
"Are you worried about the police pressing charges now that you've publicly identified yourself?" another user asks him.
"[N]ot really," he replies. "[I]f they wanted to arrest me I feel like they would have done so already[.]"
A spokesperson for the Phoenix police department declined to comment on what specific social media posts led them to the suspect, only telling Phoenix New Times in an email that evidence will be presented in court.
To be sure, an interview with the legacy media also might have helped police find the suspect. Cobin gave an interview to CBS-5 News on Wednesday, telling them that he suffered second-degree burns on his hand and wrist after picking up another canister. The station, however, did not use his name in that interview.
As far as social media goes, had it not been for the Reddit back-and-forth, it's unclear where else police would have identified the suspect on social media. A Facebook account that belongs to Cobin mostly features his public profile photos. Similarly, he has not posted on a Twitter account that appears to belong to him since June 16, where he shared a photo of a poker game.
Cobin did not return a message seeking comment.
Reddit is the fourth-most-popular website in the U.S. according to traffic-ranker Alexa and advertises itself as the front page of the internet. Users can discuss topics in a wide array of groups known as subreddits, voting the best posts to the top of the list. Items that make it to the front page of the website often go viral.
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In this case, video of the suspect being hit in the groin resulted in a lot of online taunting, not all of it good-natured. On Reddit, user "notmyqueen" said he's taken the ribbing in stride.
On Friday morning, Commissioner Paula Williams of the Superior Court of Maricopa County released Cobin on his own recognizance, not finding that he was a danger to the community. However, she did warn Cobin about his use of social media.
"Mr. Cobin, my understanding is that you've posted a lot of things regarding this. I haven't seen any of it," Williams said. "I just caution you about that. I'm not going to make it part of your release conditions, but I hope you and your attorney have a serious conversation about that."
"Yes, your honor," Cobin said.