Ethics Case C: Hiding a Suspect

George Teller had been conducting research on an American Indian reservation for two years. During that time he developed strong, close relationships with many of the people who lived on the reservation. One morning while sitting at the breakfast table with the family he was staying with, the conversation became centered on an event that had occurred one week before. This is what was recounted.

Six men and five women were gathered in one of the men’s homes having a party. As the night wore on and the effects of wine and beer drinking began to be felt by the people at the party, one of the men–Ted–went into a bedroom. He returned wearing a holster which contained an ivory-handled pistol. He began showing everyone his “quick draw” and, while doing so, one of the other men–Mike–began teasing him. Ted responded to this teasing by putting the pistol against Mike’s forehead. The stories that went around the next day expressed confusion over how the gun happened to go off and whether or not Mike was shot right then, or whether or not Ted had the gun when Mike was shot. Anyway, after the shooting everyone left Mike’s home except his girlfriend, who called the police. After taking Mike’s body to the mortuary, the police arrested Ted. Ted was released the next morning after a hearing where the tribal judge charged him with involuntary manslaughter and placed him on two years’ probation. Now, at breakfast, people talked of a rumor going about the reservation that the ex-husband of Mike’s girlfriend–Joe–had arrived at the party angry and “feeling high.” Joe got into an argument with Mike and his ex-wife and wound up shooting Mike with Ted’s gun. The tribal police were questioning everyone about this possibility, particularly since Joe seemed to be the center of a lot of recent violent activities on the reservation.Teller asked his hosts if they thought Joe had killed Mike: the answer was yes and that nobody had seen Joe for several days–“he’s hiding out, as usual, now that the FBI is looking for him.”

Later that same day, Joe showed up at the house and asked Teller to take him to a distant town so he could catch a bus “for California.” Joe said he was going back to his job for a while to earn money, and that he would be coming back to the reservation in a couple of months. Teller looked at his hosts for help in deciding what to do. They looked away, leaving the decision up to him.

Teller’s Dilemma: Should he or should he not take Joe to the bus station? In either case, if questioned by the Tribal Police, should he tell them he had seen Joe?

41 Comments

41 thoughts on “Ethics Case C: Hiding a Suspect

  1. This one seems too easy except for one thing, we are not sure if any of the stories are true. We do not know if Joe actually did anything wrong since there are only rumors that suggest he did anything wrong. Even though we do not know whether Joe is guilty or not, I do not think Teller should get involved. He should decline to help Joe and if asked, he should inform the police that he saw Joe and what Joe asked from him. It would be unethical of him to get involved by helping Joe.

    • On a personal level, I agree with your suggestion about not helping Joe and telling the police was had been heard. However, a greater good may come from staying true to the purpose of the research project and not getting involved. To witness a crime firsthand is one thing, to hear rumor and speculation about the crime and the perpetrator is another. By refusing to help Joe for the reasons stated, it keeps the researcher out of the mix of contributing to the coverup of a crime. By not sharing rumor information with the policy, the researcher keeps himself neutral and can continue his research without introducing a new variable to his observations (changing how the interactions occur by introducing action that reflects a personal code of ethics that may not be shared by the members of the community that he is observing – thus changing a variable that may change the outcomes of the study).

      • Dean,

        I agree with you that he should not share the rumor he heard with the police but what I was saying was that he was obligated to tell the truth if asked whether he had seen Joe. I think he should not lie and tell the truth even if it means putting his research in jeopardy.

    • Right…rumors are bad enough. And when they deal with something like a murder, rumors are second-hand information… and that’s not something that will do anyone good. I don’t think I have ever seen a situation where rumors were being spread that did any sort of “greater good” for anyone. Seems like this situation is fairly straight-forward.

  2. On one hand, I agree with Tamar, to have nothing to do with Joe, but Dean brings up some interesting considerations. I guess, if I were Teller, I would make up an excuse as to why I could not give Joe a ride to the bus station. I might even go so far as to help him find another ride, but I would not take him to the other town. Quite honestly, Joe has been involved in recent violent activities on the reservation; therefore, no matter what Joe is rumoured to have done, his integrity is questionable and it does not seem wise to be involved with him in any way. If I wanted to keep my insider status with my friends, I might explain I was very confused as to what to do, and concerned for their safety as well as my own. If I wanted to continue with my research in the community, but still keep ethically grounded , I also might call the reservation police anonymously to ask them if Joe is wanted by the FBI? If he is, I would tell them what Joe told me his plans were and how I was involved. At this point, my position within the community has been altered and my research project is probably in jeopardy. If the rumor about Joe is false, all I would have done was deny a guy a ride. My friends will hopefully just think I was being cautious.
    I know this sounds extreme, but if Teller takes Joe to the other town, and Joe is wanted by the FBI, it is clear that Teller knew of this possibility. Now he is aiding and abetting a fugitive-or it could be construed in that manner. I think when a possible criminal act has been committed it is ones’ civic and moral duty to act no matter what it does to the research project.

    • Good point! Even if this is all just rumors…the rumors are about murder. It certainly is a safety issue if we are not going to fall back on the “code” of the field researcher. It’s a tough call for me (even though it seems straight forward). I would not involve myself at all. Even finding this person a ride (to me) is a bad idea. It could be unethical, but if this guy is a murderer, then I just put a murderer into someone’s car! I don’t know…possible criminal act…based on a rumor? Tough call here!
      Troy

  3. This case poses some dilemmas for me but not as many as some of the others did. I agree with Dean that the researcher needed to stay true to the purpose of the work he was doing. I do not think that I would have shared with the law enforcement what I had heard because the details seem to have some vagueness to them. There seems to be some question as to who really was involved, who was present, and the details of the shooting. From what little I know about Indian reservations, the involvement of outside law enforcement poses some other issues which could jeopardize the research that Teller was doing. I think that Teller needs to remain neutral and to not involve himself in Joe’s “problem” because it sounds like he is not viewed very well by the people of the reservation.

  4. I also agree with Merriellen and Dean and the researcher needs to stay neutral and continue the purpose of his work. Not only is Teller getting deeper involved in something that is not his matter the field study is being further jeopardized. I also agree with Becky’s consideration in calling the police and letting them know of the dilemma that has been posed to Teller. In either case, if questioned by the police Teller needs to share the information he knows. To be true to himself, Teller needs to do what is right and communicate with the police, if questioned.

    • I also agree. Teller needs to stay out of the situation and by not getting involved when questioned by the police he could simply say that Joe asked him for helped but he choose not to get involved.

  5. As I read this account, I can’t help but think about a group of people, sitting around gossiping (or at least trying to remember information) about an incident that occurred when many of them were under the influence of alcohol. As far as I’m concerned, if I am the researcher, I am an outsider no matter how cozy I think I am getting with this bunch. I would say I would have to honor the code. Besides, this is second-hand information being relayed about a MURDER. This is big time stuff. Who am I (as some johnny-come-lately researcher) to jump in based on my beliefs and culture…and actually interfere with this?
    Troy

    • I agree with you Troy. As a researcher we are observers and I think in this case we would try to minimize our involvement.

  6. Curious Troy, we say we will do the right thing, but when push comes to shove and pressure is on what would we do in the moment? I hope the code of ethics will prevail.

  7. I don’t think Teller should get involved. First off it seems like he only has heard rumors and was not an actual witness to what happened? By deciding not to help out Joe he can stay clear of being part of the situation that might arise when the tribal police began to ask where Joe is and how he got there. Staying clear of this situation would allow Teller, the researcher, to continue his research.

  8. In these sorts of “heavy” situations, I would hope to do something that I could live with the rest of my life. Codes of Ethics or professional teacher dispositions are good, but when I “meet my maker” as it were, I want no regrets.

    • The needs of the majority outweigh the needs of Joe in other words. But as a known troublemaker, his reputation preceded him, and colored the perspectives of the tribe members. So much so that getting out of the area might have been best for all involved? I agree I would struggle with directly helping though

  9. Is this fiction or nonfiction. I would really like to know. Either way, it is awesome. Teller needs to stay far, far way and remember “Misery loves company.” Teller needs to move on!

  10. I think I am in the minority in thinking that Teller has a moral obligation to inform the tribal police that he has seen Joe. Teller does not need to make a judgement as to whether Joe was involved in a crime or not. The tribal police can investigate that and decide whether to arrest him. Teller doesn’t have to share the rumors or state what he does not know as fact. But when asked by the Tribal Police if he has seen Joe, I think Teller has a moral obligation to be truthful. Teller can make up an excuse and avoid giving Joe a ride. No one would blame him for trying to avoid aiding a suspect. This would be easy to do. The moral dilemma is lying to the police. If Joe goes on to commit a crime in the future, will Teller feel responsible to the victim since he possibly could’ve prevented it from happening?

  11. I would say that in a “perfect world” when all law enforcement are the “good guys” and will always performa full investigation that is unbiased and fair we can make a judgement call on what we would do. I fear hat dealing with the triabl police may be a whole differnt circumtance tat we may not have considered. Perhaps they do not have a history of making sure suspects get their day in court, perhaps there are family ties or “histotical events” that interfere with thei judgement. There are several good issues raised here and a couple of the points that I am pleased to see from my colleagues “Do the best thing for the greater good”, think about the possibility of future “victims” if we do nothing, making sure we have a clean conscience, making certain to not commit a crime in the act of potentially covering up an event, do not lie, etc. I feel like there is definitely a high moral thread running through this discussion.

  12. In this situation, I do not believe that Teller should take Joe to the bus station. Regardless of the exact details of the crime, Teller is aware that the FBI are looking for Joe as a person of interest. This makes me believe that it would be unethical for Teller aide Joe in any way. In addition, I feel that Teller should contact the police to let them know of Joe’s plans of leaving for California. However, Teller should not share the rumors that he had heard with the police regarding the crime. Teller should only share the facts that he knows and accounts that he has witnessed regarding the crime and Joe’s behaviors.

    • I agree with you, Anna. I think Teller should report the facts of the case and let law enforcement decide how to pursue the information and Joe.

    • Anna,
      I agree with you that it would be unethical of Teller to aid Joe in any way. The fact that he is a possible suspect makes me feel it would be unethical to ai him in any way. I also agree that rumors should not be spread and especially Teller should have nothing to do with the spreading of rumors. He should not lie to the police and if they ask him a direct question that he can answer, I think he should answer it.

    • I agree that Teller should only report what he knows and not let the rumors that Joe may be involved in a crime influence what he tells the authorities in any way. But should Teller let the rumors be a factor in whether he helps Joe or not? I believe it is better that he stays out of the case, in the fact that he doesn’t help Joe, but should he tell authorities of Joe’s whereabouts and involve himself? Maybe if they ask him personally if he knows anything, then he can involve himself, and if they don’t then he can stay uninvolved.

  13. I don’t think Teller should get involved and give Joe a ride whether he murdered Mike or not. His job is to observe, not get involved with the happenings of the tribe. I believe helping Joe is unethical because he may be a murderer and he is a person of interest by the FBI. I am torn, however, as to whether or not Teller should contact the police regarding Joe’s whereabouts. Personally, I think he should to allow the FBI to pursue justice in the case and find out what happened to Mike. However, that conflicts with Teller remaining uninvolved in the situation.

    • I agree with you, Teller shouldn’t get involved with the case and should remain as an observer. But like you said, Teller should inform the authorities that he knows of Joe’s whereabouts. Joe’s involvement may be just rumors, but if there is any possibility that he could be involved, then Teller should tell the FBI where Joe is and his plans even though it will involve him in the situation. When something involves murder then the individuals own morals and beliefs should come into play and help them decided what is right for them to do. Personally, I would get involved in the case and inform the authorities of any information I had that pertained to the crime.

  14. I believe that Teller should not give Joe a ride to the next town. Knowing that his hosts believed that Joe was involved in the murder, then they should support his decision. I also believe that Teller should remain as neutral as possible and not become a controversial participant in the community. He should not turn Joe in, however if he was questioned by the tribal police or the FBI, he should be forthcoming in the information that he knows. In this case, it seems that there is a fine line between studying a phenomenon and driving it. I believe the best thing for Teller to do is to look at his participants and follow their lead. As a participant observer, he needs to blend in with his participants and be as unobtrusive as possible. His actions need to reflect the norms of the community that he is studying without jeopardizing his own moral compass.

  15. I believe that Teller should not be involved in the situation at hand. I believe that giving Joe a ride to the distant town would be inappropriate because of the situation surrounding the reservation. Whether Joe is guilty or not, Teller should remain neutral and not be involved with requests from Joe. We have learned that in conducting qualitative field research: “rather than controlling events, the field researcher attempts to become part of the setting, with the goal of providing in-depth descriptions and analytical understandings of the meanings participants in a setting attach to their interactions and routines” (Bailey 2007: 3). By this, I feel like with aiding Joe, Teller is controlling an outcome that wouldn’t normally happen without his help. I don’t think, knowing about the rumors, that any other American Indian on the reservation would’ve given him a ride. Thus, by giving Joe a ride it would be taking Teller out from just being an observer.
    Also, with regards to if the Tribal police questioned Teller on whether he would tell them he had seen Joe, I think that Teller has the obligation to tell the truth. Although this would make him involved, he has a moral obligation to tell the truth to the Tribal police. I don’t think that making a comment about seeing Joe would change the position Teller was in. I also think that Teller should tell the Tribal police of the request that Joe asked of him. I believe that to solve the case, telling them this piece of information would be wise to say. I don’t believe this means he is ratting Joe out, but I do believe that it helps the Tribal police makes sense of the information presented. I do think that Teller should not tell the police about the rumors he had heard from his hosts. This allows Teller to be neutral in the situation and it allows for it not to interfere with his work. By telling the police about the rumors, he could be changing the outcome of Joe or any one else involved, when he should really just be part of the background, an observer. However, you might argue that telling the police that Teller talked with Joe is getting involved, but I think that it wont harm the outcomes.
    Overall, I believe that Teller needs to be neutral in this situation. Being neutral allows him to observe and records events according to a naturalistic observation, while also allowing him to not affect the people involved. Whether or not Joe did the crime, Teller needs to approach the situation with a passive and nonjudgmental perspective. By having this, he is able to let the events occur without interference. The rumors about Joe and giving him a ride would constitute as interference.

  16. Teller should not even be considering taking Joe to another city to catch a bus. He should be maintaining as little involvement as possible, especially given the gravity of the situation (the possibility of Joe having committed a murder). It would seem like an easy decision to make as anyone should see the issue that arises with transporting any individual who may have committed a murder and is clearly trying to evade authorities. On the point of telling tribal authorities whether or not he had seen Joe, I feel that he should simply be honest. There is a point where law and obstruction of justice take priority over a moral quandary.

  17. George Teller doesn’t owe Joe anything all he would be doing if he gave Joe a ride is exposing himself to the possibility of being brought up on charges for aiding Joe in escaping. As for whether or not he should tell the cops I think he is obligated to tell them what he knows even if it’s anonymously so as not to strain any relationships he has developed thus far in the community. But only when dealing with peculiar circumstances such as these should Teller step outside his “observer” role and go beyond his call of duty.

  18. George Teller should not give Joe a ride to California (or anywhere) There is nothing positive that comes from providing Joe with a ride, he is rumored to be unstable and violent. In this case the best thing to do is let the situation figure itself out, and simply observe and not become a pond in Joe’s story. As far as reporting anything to the police, I would not say anything. There is no substantial evidence of anything, only rumors, so there is no need to risk losing trust and credibility among the people-especially if no one else is talking to police.

  19. Geroge Teller should not give Joe a ride. Sure, these are rumors that are floating around about Joe and the murder and it is not an absolute fact but he is obviously uncomfortable about the situation. He does not trust Joe and if that is the way he feels about it then he should act upon that, at least in this situation. Joes activity does not have to be reported to the police though, the police is somewhat aware of the situation and Joes possible involvement. If the police have yet to pursue him for questioning, then George should not feel a need to say anything.

  20. Teller should not give Joe a ride to the bus station because then Teller would be involved in the case and would be helping a possible criminal. No matter if Joe killed Mike or not, Joe is involved somehow and should stay to be questioned and can either prove himself innocent or not. If Teller were to drive Joe to the bus station he could be letting a criminal go and he would also be holding up the investigation and leaving the case open longer than necessary. Even if Joe is telling the truth, he should know that the FBI is looking for him and he should just cooperate. Based on what Teller knows from other people he would be wise to refuse to give Teller a ride because it could jeopardize himself.

  21. According to the story, it seemed unclear of how Mike was shot and who the real culprit might be. Fingers are pointing at Ted due to the fact that he was the person who was last seen engaging in an inappropriate “pistol tease” with Mike. Whatever the case may be, I believe that since the FBI Is searching for Joe as a possible suspect, it’s not only safer but also best if Teller stayed away from Joe. This is a serious murder case and despite if Joe is innocent or guilty, Teller needs to take full control of the situation by rejecting Joe of a ride, and do the correct thing by calling the authorities and informing them of Joe’s whereabouts. If Teller choses to give Joe a ride, he’s putting himself in danger give the fact that Joe might be linked to the murder case, and If the Tribal Police questioned him later, and found out he knew about Joe being considered a suspect but still gave him a ride to catch a bus, things will only get complicated. I understand that George Teller is a researcher who is living among the American Indian reservation, and not only that, he also has a strong relationship with certain individuals within that area as well. Getting involved within a case like this might cause tension among him and other people but, I truly believe that informing the Tribal Police department would the moral thing for Teller to do.

  22. According to the story, It seemed unclear of how Mike was shot, and who the real culprit might be. Fingers are pointing at Ted due to the fact that he was the person who was last seen engaging in an inappropriate “pistol act” with Mike. Whatever the case maybe, I believe that since the FBI are searching for Joe, Teller should not provide transportation for him due to the fact that Joe is now considered a subject of interest. The truth about Joe being innocent or guilty is still unknown, and it’s not only best, but safer if Teller keeps his distance. If the Tribal Police happened to question Teller later on and found out that he not only knew about Joe being considered a suspect, but also provided him a ride to catch a bus, things will only get more complicated. I understand that George Teller is conducting research among the tribal group within the reservation area, but this is regarding a serious murder case, and I personally believe that Teller should take full control of the situation and reject Joe of a ride, and also call to inform the authorities about encountering Joe. This type of initiation is to eliminate any future consequences that might place Teller in danger. I believe that initiating safety now, is better than being sorry later.

  23. Teller should not take Joe to the bus station since the group of hosts declared a mutual agreement that they believe Joe killed Mike. Furthermore, they predicted Joe was hiding out and knew the case was becoming serious since the FBI is looking for Joe. It would potentially create friction between the researcher and hosts since they trusted him enough to disclose private information and opinion. The researcher develops a closer bond since he is in access of the hosts’ conversation and they are inclusive of Teller since they reveal it is no surprise that Joe is hiding “as usual.” If he was going to take Joe to the bus station, then the locals would react differently toward Teller. Their interactions and conversation would not reflect their normal behavior. Therefore, the risk of jeopardizing the research ought to be a high priority and a good judgment call would measure how the subjects in the community will be affected by his actions if he drove Joe to the bus station.
    Since Teller is surrounded by the hosts it may be easier to decide on whether to inform the Tribal Police of Joe’s whereabouts. It would depend on whether the Tribal Police asks Teller if he had seen Joe before they ask the hosts because Teller would need to carefully watch the hosts social cues so that he does not break any social rules and trust by telling the Tribal Police that he had seen Joe. If the Tribal Police was to ask Teller after they asked the hosts, then it would be a relief to know say whatever the majority of the hosts told the Police. Teller has an ethical dilemma presented to him since he may have an inclination to be honest to the Tribal Police yet the obligation to his subjects and research must measure the risks and benefits before answering. It would be difficult to reestablish bonds with the hosts. In addition, the research would need to refocus the project, questions, central subjects, and perhaps, integrate new perspectives/narratives which only pertain to the issues revolving around Joe.
    The quality conversations between subjects and researchers began when researchers are accepted as a friend, not merely a researcher, and this enables a researcher to be invited to events and participate in activities that provides access to more in depth experiences and various insights on the subjects’ practices, interactions, and beliefs. If Teller told the Tribal Police then his experience is primarily shaped by the treatment and reactions toward him, varying from completely avoiding him i.e. fear of him telling the police on them to the subjects keenly present of Teller’s presence where it is uncomfortable for Teller to study subjects who are studying him. Teller’s recordings of the incident with the Tribal Police and the hosts should explain the hosts’ eye contact with the Tribal Police and when the authorities questioned Teller about Joe. As well, the follow-up questions after the Tribal Police left should inquire if any hosts had familial relations with Joe and asks if the hosts’ trust the Tribal Police or if they do not trust them, what authorities’ are trusted by community.

    • Keep the remainder of your responses more succinct, to the point or brief. Your participation is based on spreading your participation a across interactions with other’s opinions not just broadcasting your own😉

  24. From reading previous comments, most of which I agree with; I concur that Teller should distance himself from rumors and the murder investigation itself. Although, it may be hard due to do since he had established close ties with the community and the fact that the rumors come from a second hand source likely to have been intoxicated. In a case like this, the most ethical choice would be to say no to Joe and explain that as an observer he can’t directly involve himself in the lives of the reservation citizens. In most observational cases, one inevitably inserts himself/herself in the lives of the members being observed, but it’s important to draw the line where one can impose since actions are most likely always consequential. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that as an Anthropologist it is alright to formulate biases, which is human nature and as long as they are recognized it shouldn’t be a problem, so in the case of Teller, he might have already made up his mind on Joe’s involvement, but he cannot act on hiss biases.

  25. The one of the main ethical issues here is whether or not Teller should tell the police whether or not he had seen Joe if asked. I believe that if asked Teller has the obligation to tell the truth and speak up about seeing Joe. There is no reason for him to lie if he was asked about Joe’s whereabouts because the speculations about Joe are just that, speculations. As for the driving Joe to the bus station that is a gray area because helping him can turn into a criminal offense if the rumors are true. If it were me I do not believe that I would give him a ride to the bus station. I would rather stay out of the situation all together until the police are sure of who committed the crime. As a researcher as well the job is to focus on the qualitative aspects of meaning and not speculation. With that said I do not think that it is exactly fair that the rumors do have as much influence as they do. The extent of their truth is unknown yet they change the way Joe is viewed. He could really be innocent and looking for a job outside of the tribe but there is now this stigma about him.

  26. Since it is not part of his observation, Teller should not take Joe to the bus station. Also, his hosts and other members of the reservation are keeping to themselves about their opinions on the dilemma and so Teller should follow suit. An issue that Teller can take into consideration is that this is not the first time Joe has been a suspect, although it all may be speculation why should Joe’s word trump the livelihood of the people on the reservation? If Teller can live with his decisions then he should do what he feels best as an observer.

  27. Should he take Joe to the bus station? In my opinion I do believe that he should not mind taking him. The reason why is that these are rumors and nothing more. You can not believe everything you hear. Just because he had taken part in a couple of violent activities he was labeled as the kind of man who would go and kill another person. Also how did Joe get Ted’s gun in the first place. Of course thought if he were to be questioned by the police then he would need to tell the police everything. He had not known whether or not to believe him and that in my opinion unless there is real evidence then it would be best to go with your gut feelings. That is my opinion though. I agree with Alexa Becerra though. If this had happened to me in real life I would rather want to stay out of it entirely. There are a lot of risks that come with helping out criminals, but as I stated before there is no real evidence other than Joe being the cause of a lot of rumors.

  28. Teller should not take Joe to the gas station, regardless if the accusations being made about Joe are true or not if Teller agreed to take him he would no longer be an observer but a participant as well. Like Polet said above, it is not part of his observation and he shouldn’t get involved. However, if he is later questioned by the police about Joe’s whereabouts he should tell the truth, he saw Joe and he had asked him for a ride to the bus station but he denied him, that way he could still go on conducting his observation in the reservation knowing he hadn’t crossed any ethical boundaries. Those are the decisions I could live with if I had been in Teller’s situation and as most of my classmates have mentioned above I think it would be best to just stay out of the situation entirely.

  29. I believe Teller should take Joe to the bus station. He is someone outside of the group and maybe Joe feels most comfortable asking him because he knows his own people are already against him. In a crazy situation like that, I feel that the people around you would rather believe gossip. They have already made up their minds. Teller is someone who holds neutral ground and I believe it is okay to take him to the bus. Regardless if his reason for leaving is true or not, let him go. Staying will probably drive him and the people more crazy. Teller should tell the tribal police he saw Joe. Joe would leave regardless, he has feet.

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