Dec. 14, 2007 — -- A DVD purporting to show real footage of violent crimes including shootings, carjackings and sexual assault has the Internet buzzing, police investigating and critics outraged at reality filmmaking gone wild.
Producer Ousala Aleem, 25, says he has already sold more than 10,000 copies of "Criminals Gone Wild," which reportedly contains raw and uncut footage of robberies, muggings, drive-by shootings and assaults.
Aleem, of Brooklyn, N.Y., called the budget for the movie filmed in New York, Connecticut and Alabama "real small," but said he has already made more $300,000 since it went on sale last month.
Aleem told ABC News the footage is "100 percent real," adding "why would I fake it? Just look at the prison population. There are millions of people of committing crimes and they're not hard to find."
The filmmaker said the DVD started out as a documentary in which he would interview criminals about life on the streets, but sometimes in the middle of an interview a crime would take place.
"I never went out and advertised and told people to commit crimes so I could film them, or offer to pay people to commit crimes," he said. "As word got out some people would tell me they had footage and give it to me."
Police in New York City are looking into whether the footage is indeed real.
"We have to prove the veracity of these crimes first before we can do anything," said an NYPD spokesman. "The DVD is on our radar screen and we're looking into it. Until we've investigated we can't tell who, if anyone, is criminally responsible."
Criminal defense lawyers, however, say it is generally not criminal to record a crime and do nothing to stop it.
"No person has a duty to report a crime happening. … You can watch a person being pushed into a lake and drowning and you don't have to go in after them," said Ryan Blanch, a criminal defense attorney in New York with the Blanch Law Firm PC.
If, however, you induced a person to commit a crime — even just to videotape it — that is a crime, he added. "Even if you weren't involved in the crime itself, you could be considered a co-conspirator and be charged as if you yourself were involved," he said.
The trailer for the tape shows a lot of men with guns talking about alleged crimes, interspersed with video, some of which has a YouTube imprint. Some of the scenes seem real enough and others have a staged feel to them.
"Yeah I killed somebody. … I've killed mad [many] people," said one alleged criminal wearing large sunglasses in the DVD.
Another alleged perpetrator wearing a blue bandana that obscured most of his face tells the camera, "I never did no motherf-- time. … Which actually means I'm good at what I f-- do."
A man who claims to be in the film told a New York television station that he was an actor and that the movie was a hoax. But the footage appears real enough that Amazon.com stopped selling the DVD and YouTube pulled the trailer from its site.
"When it comes to DVD titles if we've gotten complaints, we'll take a look and then make a decision about whether to keep it on the site... It was offered through a third party distributor and only for a short period of time before we pulled it," said Patty Smith, spokesperson for Amazon.com.
Smith said it was the retailer's policy not disclose sale figures.
Aleem said he never encouraged anyone to commit a crime, but simply documented them when they occurred — not unlike the mainstream media.
"I can't be held accountable for anyone else's actions. … [The media] does the same thing everyday. … No one drops their camera and calls the police, you keep shooting," he said.
Critics contend that the film goes too far, sating the public's appetite for increasingly raw and violent footage.
"This falls right into the societal pattern of people wanting to be witness to violent and bizarre acts," said Rich Hanley, a professor of communications at Quinnipiac University.
"First there was the show 'Cops,' but the bar keeps getting set higher and higher. How weird can you go? This takes it to a whole other level," he said.
Hanley said there has long been an internal debate among journalists as to when to put down the camera and report a crime, but criticized Aleem for standing idly by.
"The general rule of thumb, however, is be a citizen first and a journalist second. If you're witness to a crime, first tell the cops then report on it," he said.
Perhaps one reason Aleem wants to distance himself from the alleged crimes he recorded is a history of similar films landing their directors in trouble with the law.
In October, Allan Burney, 19, the co-host and producer of "Da Hood Gone Wild," which depicted gang life in Clearwater, Fla., was charged with attempted murder. Burney has claimed that the film flaunting an often dangerous and illegal lifestyle in his neighborhood made him a target for police.
The attempted-murder charges stemmed from an Oct. 8 shooting that left a 23-year-old man dead and another injured. Clearwater police say Burney was "positively identified" as one of the shooters who opened fire on a car as it drove away from a convenience store where an argument had taken place.
In 2003, the producers of the $20 DVD "Bumfights," Ryan McPherson, Zachary Bubeck and Daniel Tanner, were sentenced to three years' probation and community service for their role in paying homeless men to fight on tape. That DVD sold more than 300,000 copies.
Aleem, who previously hosted a local variety show called "FDTV," said he was deciding about releasing a second DVD with footage he found too "sickening" to put on the first.
"Right now I have another tape that I haven't told anybody else about. … I would turn it over to police, but I'm worried someone will put a price on my head. … I want to put it out there. It's good TV. It's very violent and shocking. It's sickening stuff," he said.
"I'd make money off that for sure. But at the cost of my life? That's not worth it."