When pranks become crimes

Planning to commit a crime? Maybe it’s not a good idea to tape it.

Here’s a useful tip if you might be planning to tape yourself threatening strangers with what appears to be a real handgun: think twice before you post those tapes on Instagram.

That’s a lesson learned the hard way by Daron Stinson, a 21-year-old Philadelphia security guard. In mid-February this year, in a pick-up truck driven by a 19-year-old accomplice, Stinson cruised through streets of the city’s Spring Garden section. In random drive-by incidents, he accosted strangers, then brandished a realistic-looking black handgun (in reality a pellet gun), and aimed and fired at them, recording their terrified reactions on a cellphone camera.

The duo taped frightened pedestrians diving to snow-covered sidewalks, and sprinting away, only to slip on icy streets. In one episode, they threaten a middle-aged man clearing his sidewalk, demanding that he put his bag of rock salt in the back of their pick-up. In another, Stinson chats up a woman, asking for her phone number, then pulls the gun on her when she hesitates. In several encounters, the youths shout profanities at their victims, then drive away shrieking with laughter.

Police investigating the incidents had a strong lead: Stinson had posted his recordings of the encounters to the Instagram website, in his account there bearing the user name “funniestnphilly.” Some of the tapes, broadcast on local TV stations, were labeled “#drive-by pranks,” and contained commentary, including one statement that “All of this is jokes.”

Philadelphia cops were not amused, and arrested Stinson on a variety of charges, including simple and aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, robbery, and making terroristic threats, among others. Stinson, who had no prior criminal record, was held in jail in lieu of $125,000 bail. Eventually, in June he saw several charges dropped (assault, robbery, conspiracy), and entered guilty pleas to others, drawing probation terms of up to four years. His accomplice drew similar terms.

Even worse: no calls from producers of Candid Camera, or even Jackass.

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