Freedom Tower BASE Jumping: Victimless Crimes and the Deterrence Factor
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has announced plans to charge four men with burglary, and possible other charges, after a September 30, 2013 BASE jumping stunt. BASE jumping is an extreme sport that involves jumping off one of four things: buildings, antennas, spans or Earth (i.e. cliffs). The four men, Andrew Rossig, James Brady, Kyle Hartwell and Marco Markovich, were involved in a jump from the roof of One World Trade Center – i.e. the Freedom Tower. Mr. Hartwell kept lookout on the ground, while the other three men jumped off of the building before deploying parachutes and landing on the street. The men videotaped the jump and posted it online, causing a stir among the online community. While it is unclear how the police initially identified the men, after obtaining search warrants law enforcement recovered the cameras used to film the stunt. The men are supposed to surrender to the police at New York’s First Precinct on Thursday, March 27.
The news of the pending arrests comes on the heels of a March 16 stunt perpetrated by New Jersey teen, Justin Casquejo. Mr. Casquejo, a 16 year old, crawled through a hole in the fence surrounding the Freedom Tower, climbed construction scaffolding, and eventually caught an elevator to the roof. He remained on the roof, 1,368 feet above street level, for two hours before being apprehended by Port Authority Police. While details of the BASE jumping incident remain unclear, there is speculation that Mr. Casquejo crawled through the same hole that the daredevils had made six months prior. To that end, Mr. Rossig’s attorney, Timothy Parlatore, said, “Certainly it should be embarrassing to the city that after six months they’ve been investigating this and yet they’ve made no efforts to fix the hole in the fence to the number one terror target in the world.” Such a comment leads to the strong assumption that the four men initially made the breach in the fence in furtherance of their stunt.
Although the police and DA are declining comment on the situation, it is clear that by investigating it for so long and pressing charges, they are trying to send a message to future daredevils. Andrew Mancilla, the attorney for Mr. Brady, calls the jump “harmless,” and says that Mr. Brady just wants the incident put behind him. Such a perspective raises important questions about the nature of law and the potential goals that it tries to accomplish. While it is true that no one was hurt, and it seems as though the BASE jumping stunt was a victimless crime, that is not the only consideration in this situation. Firstly, if it was indeed the jumpers who cut the hole in the fence surrounding One World Trade, that is property damage, trespassing, and possibly vandalism or breaking and entering. So even though nothing else went wrong, the fence must be repaired and it has already led to other security breaches at the property. These are serious concerns, and while some may take issue with Mr. Parlatore’s characterization of the Freedom Tower as the “number one terror target in the world,” it is a high profile building where security is a top priority. Secondly, while the four men were able to pull off this stunt successfully, their actions were extremely dangerous. A stunt like this has several consequences. It can inspire copycat stunts that may not turn out successfully. Many things can go wrong when jumping from such a height, especially in a city landscape. A parachute could fail to open, a jumper may not be able to control his fall and crash into a building, or a jumper could be hit by a car when landing in a street, to name a few. Additionally, this stunt shows just how easy is it to break into the Freedom Tower, which could inspire others with more nefarious purposes.
Thus, while from a distance this seems like a victimless crime that does not require any punishment, the DA has several motives to make an example of these daredevils. A major concern of law is to deter dangerous or undesirable behavior, so while these four men pulled off a breathtaking stunt that is quite entertaining to watch, the lack of direct consequences is not dispositive in determining the correct response from the law. The indirect consequences of this stunt would potentially be greatly exacerbated if it went without punishment. It is in the government’s interest to deter future stunts like this by imposing at least a nominal punishment on these four men, otherwise future accident victims would basically have been given tacit permission to attempt similar stunts. Thus, we should not be surprised by the city’s pursuit and ultimate arrest of these men, as there are very compelling reasons for doing so.