If ever there were a person who demonstrated the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, that person would be Victoria Liss. Two weeks ago, Liss was bartending at Capitol Hill's Cha Cha Lounge when she discovered she'd been stiffed by a customer. Not only had the man failed to leave a tip on a tab of almost $30, he'd also offered Liss unsolicited and unwelcome advice.
"P.S.," he wrote, "You could stand to loose [sic] a few pounds."
Had the customer paid in cash, things might have ended there. But beyond being cheap, rude, and a poor speller, he was also an idiot—dumb enough to pen his kiss-off at the bottom of a credit-card receipt that bore his name, Andrew Meyer.
What followed was a case study in Internet shaming.
First Liss posted the receipt on her Facebook page, with the detail that her tormentor was "dressed like that gay kid on Glee." Then she watched the online mob calling for Meyer's head expand from a small group of sympathetic friends to many thousands of equally outraged anonymous commenters on Yahoo News, whose interest meant the "tip story" had officially penetrated the national consciousness, however briefly.
When Liss posted a photo of the man she believed to be Meyer, the mob cheered. It finally had a target toward which it could direct all its anger, and the small headshot of Meyer (young, white, skinny, and smiling directly at the camera) seemed to confirm what Liss had first written: This man, who she says bragged about formerly belonging to a fraternity and who now worked at Microsoft, was indeed "yuppie scum."
The only problem was that the man Liss identified was not the same Andrew Meyer who'd denied her a tip. And remarkably, this wasn't the first time that Liss had accidentally accused the wrong man of doing something awful.
According to court documents obtained by Seattle Weekly, in September 2007 Liss misidentified two different men, with consequences far beyond a little Internet savagery. In the incident, Liss called a friend around 4 a.m. to arrange a meet-up. When her friend answered, he was panicked: Two men, he said, had called him a "faggot" and were threatening to beat him up.
When Liss found her friend, the two men were still there. But by the time she called 911 they had left, which meant it was up to her and her friend to provide a description of what his harassers looked like.
When Matthew Oly and Brian Krieger were arrested by Seattle police shortly thereafter, Liss and her friend were taken to the location where the men were being detained. Despite Oly and Krieger's claims of innocence, Liss and her friend identified the pair as the men who had threatened them.
Oly and Krieger were then booked into King County Jail, and four days later charged with felony harassment. Six months later, however, after Krieger submitted, and passed, a polygraph test about the incident, Liss and her friend began having doubts about their positive ID.
When the case was suddenly dropped, the Order of Dismissal listed "some uncertainty as to the identity of the perpetrators" as one reason that it wasn't pursued—but only after Oly and Krieger had been arrested, charged, forced to hire lawyers, and generally had their lives turned upside down for half a year.
As for the falsely accused Meyer, who managed a Seattle-area Cheesecake Factory before moving to Texas three years ago, he told Capitol Hill Blog that the mob had been busy. Since Liss posted his picture, he'd received 68 pieces of hate mail directed at him, his wife, and even his mother.
"I'm not the kind of guy to go after somebody unless they deserve it," Meyer told the blog, before saying that, as far as legal repercussions go, he was still considering whether Liss deserved to be sued or not.
Liss hasn't responded to requests for comment. And while we could have made the same mistake she did—identifying one person for having committed the sins of another—unlike her, we're almost positive our message was sent to the right person.