Nearly 12,000 people across the country and several hundred more overseas listened as a Baltimore crime blogger wanted by authorities negotiated his own surrender and broadcast it live over the Internet.
Another 20,000 people have clicked on the audio that is posted on Frank J. MacArthur’s blog, which has become a small sensation since a five-hour standoff in North Baltimore on Saturday involving MacArthur.
“It’s a lot for a nonfamous person,” said Francesco Baschieri, founder and CEO of spreaker.com, a Web site he developed to allow people to live-stream podcasts.
MacArthur was charged Tuesday with two gun counts — illegal possession of a firearm and illegal possession of an unregistered rifle/shotgun. Both charges pertain to a sawed-off shotgun police say they found in his home after his arrest.
On Wednesday, a District Court judge in Baltimore ordered MacArthur held without bail on the gun charges, according to electronic court records. His next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4.
Baschieri, who works in both the United States and Italy, said he was surprised that authorities did not contact him about shutting down Saturday night’s three-plus hour Webcast. He said he’s also surprised that police haven’t tried to get the broadcast removed from the Web site.
“We were expecting some sort of takedown,” Baschieri said, noting he had attorneys on standby.
He said he knows standard police protocol during standoffs is to limit communication so the suspect can only talk to police. Negotiators generally believe outsiders can distract both them and the suspect, and could unknowingly say something to make the situation worse.
Said Baschieri: “I understand it, but I don’t agree with it.”
Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that authorities at the scene had the capability to shut down MacArthur’s blog, either by jamming his cellphone or turning off the power. He would not say why that step was not taken.
He did say that “from a tactical perspective, the operation went off flawlessly. ... We had a brilliant negotiator and a prudent and patient tactical unit.”
But Guglielmi said police commanders plan to study the social media aspect. “We’ve got to make sure we incorporate this into our training,” he said.
Experts in tactical policing said that negotiators might have decided to allow MacArthur his soapbox either because they feared silencing him would anger him or because they felt talks were going well and they didn’t want to ruin them.
MacArthur, a city taxi driver, has built a blog and Twitter following by responding to crime scenes and news conferences, and writing and talking about city issues. Several times during negotiations, he expressed how he was now a public figure and that ratings for his podcast has surely shot up.
He even said his surrender was timed for the start of the 11 p.m. nightly newscast.
MacArthur was charged with violating the terms of his probation from a 2009 illegal gun conviction. His probation agent had filed the charge after officials said MacArthur missed several mandatory meetings.
MacArthur’s back and forth with Baltimore Police Lt. Jason Yerg broke new ground, police officials said, going well beyond a wanted suspect calling the media as police close in. MacArthur, 47, provided his audience both sides of an intense police drama, giving rare insight into delicate talks with a negotiator trying to peacefully end a standoff.
Police said they sent tactical officers to MacArthur’s home because he had learned of the warrant and had Tweeted threats to kill officers sent to arrest him. During his conversation with Yerg, MacArthur denied he planned to kill anyone and repeatedly said he planned all along to surrender. But he also made statements that cast doubt on his promises, and, and at least once delayed giving up to chat via Twitter with a CNN commentator live on the air.
That commentator, Roland Martin, asked via Twitter, “Why this situation with @BaltoSpectator has escalated to this? Why is he web broadcasting and talking to the cops on it?”
But Martin also asked on Twitter, “Why won’t a friend of @BaltoSpectator come to help escort him out, as opposed to the cops tearing down the doors to arrest him?”
Those tweets prompted the Baltimore Sun’s television critic, David Zurawik, to write a column about unprofessional citizen journalists .
Zurawik wrote that he didn’t consider Martin a real journalist, to which Martin, on Twitter, called his Baltimore Sun column “a piece of crap.” CNN suspended Martin this year for comments he tweeted on Super Bowl Sunday that were regarded as homophobic.
Martin and a spokesperson for CNN did not responded to interview requests Tuesday.
Baschieri, the founder of Spreaker, said the police and journalistic debate over MacArthur’s Webcast is the point of his creation.
“We might agree or not agree with people, and with what they say, but we want them to voice their opinion,” he said.
Baschieri said that Spreaker has about a million registered users, and that 30,000 people create unique content each month. He said live video casts are typically by ministers reciting sermons, musicians giving family and friends concerts and some celebrities giving free performances.
This item has been updated.