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Police: Facebook post ‘unfounded’ about alleged Costco incident

A viral Facebook post that accused a man of being involved with sinister illegal activity at the Manteca Costco store over the weekend has been declared “unfounded” by Manteca Police investigators. 

And the young local woman who made the post – who claimed she was only relaying information from the woman that said she was affected by the unidentified man on Sunday afternoon – has since recanted and offered an apology to anybody that she may have misled. 

The incident began on Sunday when an unnamed woman who was with her three children at the Manteca Costco store notified store employees, fellow shoppers, and ultimately, her husband, that a man had been following her in the store and that she had recognized that man from other locations in town. 

In a public Facebook post that has was shared almost 5,200 times before it was taken down, another shopper – a young local woman the Bulletin is choosing not to identify – accused the man of being involved with “human trafficking” and alleged that he had been accused of doing the same thing at the Manteca Wal-Mart store in the recent past. 

She also took his picture and a photo of what she claimed was his license plate and posted them along with the account. 

The story had spread across the Internet and spawned multiple threatening and violent responses from social media users before the Manteca Police Department – who had responded to the initial incident on Sunday – became aware of the post’s presence and issued a statement clarifying some of the facts that they said were not present in the young woman’s initial Facebook detailing the incident. 

“On October 15th, MPD was made aware of a post on social media showing the subject’s face as well as possibly his vehicle with a license plate number. This post has been shared many times and some of the responses to this post have called for violence against this subject,” the Manteca Police said in a statement. “The person who posted the picture and apparent license plate of the subject was not involved in the investigation and, as a result, did not have all of the information. 

“The Manteca Police Department takes all allegations of human trafficking, stalking, sexual exploitation and crimes of this nature very seriously. MPD officers are duty-bound to investigate each allegation and prosecute where applicable. It is just as important to free innocent people from suspicion as it is to prosecute the guilty, however. MPD officers investigated this incident thoroughly and found these allegations were unfounded.”

According to the Manteca Police, officers responded to the scene Sunday and discovered that the husband of the woman who made the initial claim against the man had showed up and taken his keys away from him. It was then that the unidentified man, fearing for his safety, called a family to come pick him up from the scene. 

Once he was safely away from Costco, he called the Manteca Police Department himself, and agreed to be questioned – stating that he was at Costco to purchase birthday decorations for his child, and had no idea who the lady that accused him was. He denied following her in the store. 

The young woman who made the Facebook post took it down less than 24 hours after it had been posted, but not before she replaced the content that included the allegations with a disclaimer that the original reporting party had misled her, and that she was sorry for her part in the situation. 

She also made unverified claims about the woman’s mental health – claims that the Manteca Police clarified did not in any way come from them. 

“Here I was thinking I am a hero and now I’m disgusted that this post has gotten around where it has and this man was portrayed this way in my post,” the young woman wrote. “I’ll be putting my nose back where it belongs and never getting involved again. This is embarrassing. 

“Sorry to my peoples, but still always hang tight to your children.”

Commenters on social media were quick to point out the similarities to something that happened last year at the Manteca Wal-Mart store where a man’s photo was taken at the register and he was accused of being involved with “human trafficking” activity. 

When the Manteca Police Department were finally contacted in that case – after his photo had been posted to social media and it had gone viral – they reviewed security footage from the store and determined that the account on social media was not what they observed on the security camera. 

Much like what happened on Sunday, that man also contacted the Manteca Police Department on his own, and gave his account to the officers who were investigating the matter once he discovered what he had been accused of. 

The Manteca Police Department also urged the public not to take any action on posts that they see on social media and instead contact them to investigate claims and determine their validity. 

“We strenuously ask that no one take violent action against anyone based on posts they see on social media,” the department said in a release. “Quite often these posts do not contain all of the facts and can place individuals in unwarranted danger.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.