Every once in a while, a news story prompts me to admit something about my personal life. This is one of those. The confession is that I grew up loving comic books, or, as they are now called, “graphic novels”. Given the popularity of superhero movies of the last several years, I guess I was not alone. I particularly enjoyed the ones involving super-heroes who went out and fought crime. Many of the superheroes, such as Daredevil, usually worked alone (incidentally, his secret identity, Mathew Murdock was a criminal defense attorney), acted alone. However, there were various groupings of heroes, such as the X-Men, Avengers and Justice League of America, who worked together to fight threats to the universe. Sometimes the action was as close as New York or Boston…sometimes far away in other countries and planets.
Of course, that was all just fantasy…or was it?
According to yesterday’s Boston Globe, there exists a “crime club” right here in the Boston area. It’s secret headquarters is nestled in that institution of scientific education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, otherwise known as Cambridge’s own “MIT”.
MIT students are no strangers to criminal justice controversy. Not too long ago, for example, there was that incident of a student and criminal charges for terrorizing armed security personnel.
But who knew there was a secret cabal called a “Crime Club”?
So…what is the MIT Crime Club?
Well, according to the club’s web site, it is an amateur sleuthing society that tries to solve all manner of unsolved crime, both on MIT’s campus and off Notable recent episodes include the discovery of illegal domain-name infringement, possibly by the government of Sudan…sort of an international white collar type of matter.
According to its site, the club “is assisting a private detective agency with its investigation of the wrongful killing of a Cambridge resident in a Harvard dormitory.”
Whoops! Experience, or lack of it, shows. Last weekend, two of the above-referenced investigators were arrested.
You see, The MIT Crime Club retained one male and one female private investigator from the Simmons Agency of Boston to investigate the May 18 homicide of Justin Cosby, 21, of Cambridge, inside Harvard’s Kirkland House dormitory, according to the agency. Joseph C. and Elissa C. ( hereinafter, the “Defendants”) of Nardizzi and Associates of Arlington were the lucky free-lance detectives.
Saturday, the Defendants were arrested and charged with trespassing and breaking and entering after Harvard University police found them taking photos inside the dorm, according to a report prepared by Maura Hayes of the Harvard University Police Department.
The Defendants pleaded not guilty in Cambridge District Court Monday and were released on personal recognizance, said a spokesman for Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr.
When asked, an MIT spokeswoman disavowed any knowledge of the “Crime Club” or its proposed heroic activities.
Ok, back to the self-disclosure. I used to also like detective shows. For some reason, I am reminded of the original television series “Mission: Impossible”, on which some recent motion pictures have been based. In the beginning of each episode, one of the secret investigators would receive a tape that would self-destruct and advising of the instructions and warning that if any of the team were discovered, knowledge of their existence would be denied.
Could it be that such is the case here? Is the secret crime-fighting cadre really an invisible arm of MIT’s police? Is it part of an elaborate conspiracy?
We may never know the answers to these questions. We can, however, take some lessons which apply those of us who do not perform our duties under the figurative cloak of secrecy.
First of all, I have often advised that the self-help approach to the criminal justice system does not usually work. This was the case here. The fact is that, while everybody (even the police) sometimes like a little help, taking on your own secret investigation is not usually a good idea. After all, this was someone hiring a private investigator to simply follow a spouse suspected of having an affair. This was a murder investigation. Law enforcement tends to be fairly territorial when it comes to such things. Further, when such an event happens on school property, the subject often becomes a bit touchy to the administration.
“Well, wait a minute, Sam”, you begin. ” you mean if I invite someone into my dormitory, and they come and take pictures, they can be arrested?”
Yes and no…although…mostly no.
If you let your buddy into the dorm and they “hang out” a bit, perhaps taking some pictures you ask them to take about some public areas or your room…this is not usually a problem. It does not, however, seem like this is what is alleged to have happened here.
If you meet with someone and ask them to somehow gain entrance to a dorm (particularly if it is one in which you do not live), and surreptitiously take photographs, measurements and perhaps even bother people with questions, there could be a problem.
Trespass is being on private property in which you do not belong and are not invited. Campus housing is private property. Gaining entrance to a private building without being simply let in by the owner can be breaking and entering…depending on the circumstances…even if there was no actual “breaking” of a door or window.
There is also the aggravating issue of stepping on law enforcements toes. It would seem that what happened here, playing detective myself, was that people in the dorm became suspicious when strangers showed up to look around and take pictures.
Tthe students called campus police to see what was going on. Campus police showed up and were advised that these were private investigators who had been hired to investigate a murder…suggesting that perhaps the police could not do the job themselves.
Police tend not to appreciate such a message, by the way.
Then came the question of legitimizing the Defendants. Unfortunately, the group that hired them had to be cloaked in secrecy and not, officially at least, recognized by the school administration.
And so…two criminal defense attorneys are awarded new cases.
I guess life does tend to imitate art. Remember “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”? Don’t worry, though, the heroes usually turn out ok in the end.
The full articles of this story can be found at http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/06/02/two_charged_with_trespassing_at_harvard_dorm/ , http://w eb.mit.edu/crimeclub/www/crime.html, http://bostonist.com/2007/09/21/breaking_mit_st.php and http://bostonist.com/2009/06/02/mit_has_a_crime_club.php