Gruesome, close-up pictures of human mauling victim Ronald Poppo have gone viral, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen them in the past week — even if you never wanted to do so.
From Facebook to emails to blogs, photos are everywhere showing the horrific damage done to Poppo’s face — which was destroyed, save his chin and his right eye — by Rudy Eugene’s teeth alongside the MacArthur Causeway Saturday afternoon.
Now police, fire-rescue and hospital officials want to find out who illicitly leaked the privacy-invading images, and punish those responsible.
“Miami police are conducting the investigation, as far as the photos — who took them, how they were distributed — and we’re cooperating with them,” said Lt. Ignatius Carroll, a Miami Fire-Rescue spokesman. “Any pictures being taken of a scene need to go through proper channels before being released. “[Our office] definitely did not distribute the photos.”
Walter Lambert, medical director of the Department of Health’s Child Protection Team in Miami, saw them by chance at work earlier this week. He was horrified — by both what he saw, and by the rules that were broken in circulating them .
“I’m someone who’s used to seeing trauma already, but I was disgusted,” Lambert said.Lambert suspects that, given the pictures’ detail and the level of care Poppo had received, they were taken by an emergency responder or a medical professional. Either way, it’s a gross ethical — and possibly even legal — violation, he said.
The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (known as HIPAA) requires physicians to ensure they are protecting the privacy and security of patients’ medical information, according to the American Medical Association. Violators of HIPAA are subject to civil and criminal penalties.
“Jackson has an internal investigation to determine if patient privacy was violated,” said Edwin O’Dell, a spokesman for Health System, which treated Poppo. The hospital’s probe began on Tuesday, and the photos’ release is potentially a firing offense, O’Dell added.
The two images of Poppo were clearly taken after he had received medical care. They show him in a head-stabilizing collar with a tube down his throat. Assuming they are real, they have only three possible sources: someone from Miami police, fire-rescue or Jackson.
A third image has also emerged from the crime scene showing Eugene, facedown, alongside his victim with a bullet hole in his back.
While officials would not say if they had identified the leaker, the online trail of breadcrumbs appears to begin with a Cuban puppet. Seriously.
Pepe Billete, the infamous YouTube sensation, posted the faceless headshots and the crime scene photo on Instagram and Twitter about 9 p.m. Monday, calling them the “aftermath of the zombie attack.”
The identity of the person behind the puppet’s account is not known, and efforts to reach the puppeteer were unsuccessful Friday.
By Tuesday morning, “Pepe” had deleted the pictures, announcing the move in a profanity-laced tirade against communists.
But it was too late. The photos were already everywhere.