A website that published addresses and photographs of people arrested in Johnson County and offered to remove the embarrassing information for a fee shut down Thursday after a massive backlash.
By CHRISTINE VENDEL
The Kansas City Star
Matthew Creed of Shawnee said the site would remain down indefinitely. He said he was working with possible investors and might restart it with a different focus and different name.
Creed, 30, said he received death threats and had to relocate his family, which includes two small children, after news spread about his website. Many people objected to his business concept and thought he was trying to profit off people already down on their luck.
This guy is just a bottom-feeding vulture, said Jay Norton, a lawyer in Johnson County who had clients featured on the website. The idea that he was trying to help the community is a total farce.
Many people also questioned whether the site violated state laws. The Johnson County District Attorneys office said Thursday it still was investigating.
When Creed started the site, Blabbermouthkc.com, in May, he said he thought he had found a legal way to publish mugshots and ask arrestees for up to $199.99 to delete the information. He sent letters to dozens of people arrested in May and June in envelopes with their mugshots printed on the outside next to the words: We know
The letters congratulated recipients on their recent release from jail and noted their arrests were obviously embarrassing to you and your family.
We have already started blabbing to the world about your release from jail, and we want to make you aware of our services, as we kind of have a big mouth, the letters said.
If the recipients didnt pay up, they risked having their neighborhoods flooded with fliers about their arrests, his letter said. The so-called blitz notification would be triggered by a request from the public. No fliers were ever distributed.
He said he thought the system was workable but wondered whether people would gripe about it too much.
And people griped about it way too much, he said.
Creed said he knew he was delving into gray areas of the law but thought he remained on the right side of the legal line. If he restarts a similar business, he said he would ensure the model stays a lot farther away from the line.
Creed posted a note admitting defeat Thursday on kcsr.org, a local message board. Its members had united against Creed after a member who had been featured on Blabbermouthkc.com posted the letter he received from Creed. The members said they thought Creeds business model amounted to blackmail.
You win, Creed wrote. Im sincerely sorry to have pissed so many people off, caused the trouble I did, and for everything else. Cant change whats been done ... the past is the past, and I apologize.
He also asked kcsr.orgs owner to take down photos and personal information posted by message board members about Creeds family members who had been arrested. Creed said he didnt care whether the message board left up the information about his own 2010 DUI arrest, but he asked it not to punish his relatives.
No hard feelings on my side ... sometimes an initial idea doesnt pan out and needs to go back to the drawing board, and you guys made me realize that, he wrote.
Creed said he intended for his website to deter crime by notifying the public about people who got arrested. His site allowed users to click on a map to check on their neighbors.
At one point the site featured more than 900 mugshots of people, most of whom had not been convicted. Many had been arrested for DUI, but some were arrested for failing to show up for court for simple traffic tickets.
One person said that her face was posted on the website after a charge against her had been dropped. The 43-year-old woman said the charge came about after she locked herself out of her home over the Memorial Day weekend and broke a window to get inside. Prior to breaking the window, she pounded on her door to awaken her boyfriend, and the ruckus caused a neighbor to call police.
She was booked into jail for criminal damage to property, but a judge dropped the charge within 12 hours.
Still, her mugshot was posted and remained on the website until this week. She was one of dozens of arrestees who received letters from Creed.
It really did scare me when I got the letter, said Stacie, who didnt want her last name published because she didnt want to be linked to a criminal act she hadnt committed. I thought, Im being blackmailed.
I know these are public record, but he made me feel like some sort of criminal. I didnt think it could be legal.
The letter recipient who posted his letter on kcsr.org said he wasnt overly concerned about his DUI arrest being publicized. Instead, he was concerned that it felt like he was being blackmailed.
It didnt seem like he was doing it for the community, he said. I didnt need someone telling me I messed up. I already knew I messed up.
As the firestorm about the letters grew, Creed pledged to send retraction letters to clarify that he wasnt threatening anyone. But Creed never sent any retractions because he did not know everyone who received the first letters, he said Thursday. He said that a hacker corrupted all his files on Tuesday and that he had to buy a new laptop computer.
Creed initially planned to revamp the website to focus only on DUI, drug and sex offenders. He registered his website as a nonprofit organization and removed the neighborhood service, and made other changes. But this week he decided to pull the plug entirely.
He declined to say how many people paid him to remove their personal information. But the map on his website before it was shut down indicated people at seven addresses had paid.
Creed said he didnt make any money off the website. Any funds received went to offset the start-up costs, he said.
Hes now considering a member-based safety-watch type website, he said.
Everythings up in the air for now, he said. There are so many different avenues that this thing can potentially go before I go back and brave the firestorm I did.
Meanwhile, the owner of kcsr.org, Erik Razdins, remained cautious.
If it (Creeds website) truly is down, I think its a great victory, he said.
To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.