Kareem Alleyne isn’t a murderer. But if you Googled him recently, you might think otherwise.
Last month, a Philadelphia jury awarded Alleyne more than $1 million for being falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted for the murder of a police officer in 2012. "I'm in shock," the former bank teller told a local paper about the verdict.
It was a stunning victory. In essence, the jury found that a trio of Philadelphia police officers manipulated evidence during their investigation in order to minimize negative information about their colleague and charge Alleyne for his death.
But now Alleyne has another problem: clearing his name online after years of incriminating media coverage fueled by prejudiced police work.
"Any general employer doing a background check on [Alleyne], these are the things they will see—that he's a 'cop killer,’” his attorney James Funt told me over the phone. "This is something that is going to affect my client for his entire life and beyond.” What’s worse, Fund noted, is that Kareem's son is also named Kareem. “Whenever you search his name online, his son will be saddled by the sin that his father never committed,” he said.
The question is: what can be done about it?
In 2014, the highest court in Europe ruled that people have a right to influence what information online searches about them reveal. The so-called "right to be forgotten" has led to Google removing over half a million search results in Europe, according to a Transparency Report issued by the company. About 43% of European requests for removal have been honored since the decision.
In the U.S., however, the "right to be forgotten" doesn't exist. Google's stated policy is that it considers requests for search results removal in the U.S. along very narrow terms, usually for issues of copyright infringement, for revealing identifying information, or most recently, revenge porn.
"Google Search generally reflects what’s on the web, with very narrow and limited exceptions, such as when we receive a valid court order. In those cases we carefully evaluate each and every removal request we receive, and record all government requests for content removal in our Transparency Report," a Google spokesperson wrote me in an email, when I asked how a case like Alleyne's might be considered.
That leaves few remedies for Alleyne. In its Transparency Report, the company lists three different cases in the U.S. where the government requested a news article be taken down. In none of the cases were they removed. None of the articles seem to have stemmed from police actions that the courts have since ruled against.
"The E.U. has it right on this one," said Rich Matta, CEO of ReputationDefender, the wing of the Reputation.com organization that focuses on reputation management for private citizens. "In the U.S., the legal system is particularly behind the times on this issue, and you see it very clearly in these kinds of cases."
The average client cost to combat negative links online is about $3,000 to $25,000 a year, Matta estimated. "Depending on the level of prominence of the individual, and obviously kind of the crime you're accused of, the cost can go up."
It's a dilemma that all sorts of people who find themselves in the crosshairs of the criminal justice system find themselves in. On that note, Alleyne still has some work to do. A search for his name pulls up a mixed bag of stories highlighting both the early reports of the tragedy and those spelling out his acquittal.
But it's those early links that are the most damaging; those that came before the trial. (A judge dismissed Alleyne’s charges as soon as he got to trial.)
"He took his vehicle and intentionally struck the off duty officer. They had bad blood between them and that's probably why this transpired," Captain James Clark said in a press conference following the incident.
What was left out of the early comments to the media was vital information that could have shown that the "bad blood" that existed was mostly directed from Officer Marc Brady towards Alleyne.
Alleyne was dating the officer's ex-girlfriend, with whom the officer had several children. For nearly two years, the officer stalked Alleyne, threatening or insinuating violence, said attorney Funt. In one incident, the officer showed up at Alleyne's home with a gun and banged on the door. He shouted that he knew the woman was inside.
Alleyne called the police. When they arrived they briefly put the off-duty officer in handcuffs. The woman filed domestic charges against Brady for the incident.
That incident had led to internal investigations opening up an investigation into the officer's behavior. At the time of the crash, he had been removed from the streets and placed on administrative desk duty. Internal affairs had already suggested that criminal stalking charges be pressed against the officer. Alleyne was due to meet with the unit later that week to give a statement.
On the day of the incident, Alleyne was leaving his girlfriend's home. A few blocks away, Brady suddenly popped up in the street, riding his bike straight towards the car, Funt said the investigation detailed. Alleyne turned the wheel to the left to avoid hitting him, but Brady smacked right into the car, later dying from the injuries.
"Alleyne had only a few seconds to react to the situation. As much as it pains him that the officer died, the honest truth is it wasn't his fault," said Funt.
Instead of conducting a full investigation and arriving at the facts, the investigators promptly and irresponsibly arrested Alleyne, even telling news outlets that the two had been involved in an argument earlier that night, alluding to a possible motive, the jury found. "That was an absolute falsehood," said Funt. "If the decedent hadn't have been a police officer, he would have never been charged. When it came down to it they were doing what they could do to protect their colleague's reputation, at the expense of [Alleyne's]."
The city is appealing the malicious prosecution and false arrest charges, saying the court made legal errors.
"At this point, the best that can be done is to create a new persona for my client," said Funt. Using a company like Reputation.com, dozens of new pieces will have to be published across the web, then interlinked to one another in order to "trick Google into thinking those are more important than false reports that he killed a cop."
It's going to cost up to a million dollars over a lifetime of headache to keep his family's name clear, as an expert estimated at the trial. Even after the worst results are pushed down to the third or fourth page, the efforts will have to be renewed every so often to make sure the "bad stuff doesn't come around again," said Funt.
"But," he added, "it's always going to be there."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.