Warrants should be issued before use, says human rights group
by Gregg MacDonald Staff writer
A bill that would prohibit police from using currently utilized mobile devices to spy on residents’ cellphone usage without first obtaining search warrants unanimously passed the Virginia House of Delegates and is on its way toward becoming law.
HB 17 passed 99-0 on Feb. 11 and is currently undergoing evaluation in the Virginia Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee.
If passed into law, the bill would, except under certain very narrow circumstances, prohibit the use of International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers by police agencies such as the Fairfax County Police — who currently use them — without first obtaining a search warrant.
The devices, called “StingRays,” are manufactured by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, and are legally marketed to military and law enforcement as ways of “triangulating” the position of a cellphone user by mimicking a cellphone tower and tracking the location of that person’s cellphone signals.
But according to human rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the devices are capable of doing much more, such as intercepting phone calls and even text messages.
“That type of usage would be illegal,” said Alan Butler of EPIC. “But nonetheless, the capability is there.”
And that makes use of the devices without a search warrant a 4th Amendment issue, Butler says.
The Fourth Amendment precludes unreasonable searches and seizures of property and effects without a warrant defining a probable cause.
According to Fairfax County government documents, the Fairfax County Police Department has been using the devices for at least four years, but spokesperson Lucy Caldwell declined to comment on exactly how police use them, saying only that “the FCPD does not comment on our investigative tools, nor do we discuss investigative techniques or capabilities … however, our detectives and officers follow all state and federal legal requirements for the use of technologies that we do use.”
In a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agenda dated Sept. 28, 2010, police state that use of the device is “used in conjunction with a court order, and the Fairfax County Police Department has been sponsored to use this tracking device through the U.S. Marshals Service.” In the same agenda, the department says it will use $126,661 of a federal grant to “enhance the StingRay cell phone tracking system,” which is “capable of locating and tracking cellular service whether or not a phone is transmitting. As long as the cellular phone is powered on, the StingRay is capable of locating it.”
In addition to tracking cellphone use for “crime victims, suspects of crimes, wanted persons, and those in need of emergency services,” police also state in the agenda that the StingRay device enhances “officer safety and allows the officers to stay in communication with each other during covert operations.”
Butler says not all uses of the device potentially conflict with the Fourth Amendment, but because the capability exists, warrants should first be issued.
“I am not saying they should never be used,” he said. “But at the same time, you should clearly be getting a warrant first.”
HB 17 lists four circumstances in which real-time location data could still be obtained by police without a warrant:
• To respond to a user’s call for emergency service;
• With the “informed affirmative consent” of the owner
• With the “informed affirmative consent” of the owner’s legal guardian or next of kin; and
• If there is an emergency involving danger to a person.
“It’s a powerful device and its use should be regulated,” Butler said. “With it in the wrong hands, a phone system can be hijacked without either the user or the phone company being aware.”
By Josh Saul
Two Brooklyn cops sideswiped a parked SUV, then arrested a man sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle, accusing him of damaging their car, a suit charges.
And the officers would have gotten away with their lie — had the whole bizarre drama not been caught by a security camera.
Robert Jackson, 31, told The Post his nightmare began when a police car heading the wrong way on one-way Watkins Street in Brownsville scraped against a parked Ford Explorer, which belongs to his girlfriend.
Jackson, a maintenance worker, said he was sitting in the legally parked car outside of his apartment when the accident happened. He got out of the vehicle and walked up to the officers.
“I was smiling, like, ‘How’d you run into me?’ ” he recalled. “Then the cop said, ‘Dude, you ran into me.’ ”
“I just wanted them to fix the damage and apologize, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Jackson said. “They were trying to cover it up.”
At that point, things got even more surreal.
The two cops checked the block for surveillance cameras before arresting him for destruction of city property, according to the lawsuit filed by Jackson in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
“When they thought no cameras were on. I saw their gloves go on, and that’s when I was arrested,” Jackson said.
But fortunately for Jackson, the officers, Christopher Oliver and Shazad Shigri, missed one camera on the home of one of his neighbors, Jackson said.
The video, reviewed by The Post, corroborates Jackson’s story.
It shows the police car going the wrong way down the street on April 17, 2013, and scraping the parked SUV as the officers try to make room for a truck to pass.
Though charges were eventually dropped, Jackson had to spend a night in a “filthy, overpopulated, rat- and rodent-infested cell,” his suit says.
“The officer who arrested me said if I took care of the expense on my vehicle, they would take care of their vehicle and I wouldn’t have gotten arrested,” Jackson recounted. “He knew he was wrong.”
The NYPD referred comment to the city Law Department.
The city Law Department said only, “We will review the complaint.”
The suit charges that the officers “falsely claimed that [Jackson] was operating the parked motor vehicle and that [Jackson] caused the parked motor vehicle to strike the NYPD vehicle.”
Jackson was arrested for destruction of city property, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, the suit states.
But he was officially charged only with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle because he had a suspended license.
The criminal complaint drafted against Jackson says he had the keys in the ignition — which could support the unlicensed-operator charge — when the crash happened, but Jackson said that’s not true.
“If he’s claiming that he was not in the driver’s seat and the car was not on — if either of those claims are truthful, then he wasn’t operating the car under the law,” said Todd Greenberg, a defense attorney and expert on traffic law who is not involved in the case.
The suit, which names the city and the two police officers, seeks unspecified monetary damages.
BY: RANDY DOTINGA
Late Wednesday, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne announced the department’s sexual misconduct scandal had grown to include another officer. This officer is under investigation for allegedly touching and exposing himself to an arrestee while transporting her to jail about a year ago.
Lansdowne said all transports of women arrestees now will be done by two officers. Christopher Hays, an officer who was charged earlier this week with on-duty sexual misconduct, resigned Wednesday.
Our Liam Dillon asked Lansdowne after the press conference why allegations of officer sexual misconduct keep happening.
“I can’t tell you about human behavior,” Lansdowne said. “But I can tell you we’ll root it out and we’ll take care of it.”
• The San Diego Police Department has had a very rough last few years amid multiple misconduct allegations. Lansdowne appears to remain popular, though, and it hasn’t hurt that he’s announced that he wants an external review of the department.
So how will this “audit” work? One way would be to bring the city’s own independent auditor into the picture. But he tells us he’s out of the loop. In a new story, we also look at how a similar process unfolded in Philadelphia and why the Justice Department could be brought into the mix.
by LINN WASHINGTON JR.
hiladelphia – Back in 1978, a respected newspaper columnist in in this city blasted local black elected officials for their failure to criticize police brutality – the scourge that ravaged blacks for decades, often with the sanction of white elected officials like then Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, a former city police commissioner.
“Those black elected officials lack courage,” respected journalist Chuck Stone wrote three-decades ago, slamming Philadelphia’s four top black officials as servile, betraying their constituents.
During the weeks before publication of Stone’s July 18, 1978 news commentary, Philadelphia police had killed two unarmed black men and viciously beat scores of people including a group of black teens attending a party at the home of a Methodist minister.
Now, 36 years later in 2014, Philadelphia black elected officials again face harsh criticism for their failures both to publicly condemn continued police brutality and to utilize their electoral clout to end that festering scourge.
Once again, black officials are being disparaged as servile and and betraying the people who elected them. And once again, the trigger for this latest volley of criticism against Philadelphia’s black elected officials is their collective failure to publicly condemn a high-profile incident of alleged police abuse. That incident in question was a vicious January 7 police assault on a teenage honor-roll student  that left the 16-year-old needing emergency surgery for a damaged testicle.
“We are outraged by their silence,” activist Paula Peeples said as she castigated the muted criticism about police abuses like that recent teen assault on the part of too many of Philadelphia’s black elected officials.
Peeples is an official in the Philadelphia chapter of NAN – the National Action Network founded by civil rights leader, Rev. Al Sharpton. Since 2008, Philly NAN has unsuccessfully petitioned the White House three times for a federal probe into brutality by Philadelphia police – each time without support from Philadelphia’s top black elected officials.
Peeples was a part of efforts in the late 1970s to end abuses by Philadelphia Police that ironically helped energized a wave of political activism that elected many more blacks to pivotal posts in Philadelphia’s City Hall plus seats in the state legislature.
Black elected officials in Philadelphia now occupy the top posts of mayor, City Council president and district attorney plus the appointed position of police commissioner. Philadelphia’s 17-member City Council includes eight blacks on that governing body. Sixteen blacks from Philadelphia serve in the Pa state legislature, 12 in the state House and four in the state Senate. There are also many more blacks serving in the police department compared to in 1978, when they were a rarity.
Yet conditions for blacks on police abuses (and other social ills) have not improved appreciably, leaving many dubious about the efficacy of electoral politics in reducing misconduct by police. Philadelphia Blacks remain the prime targets of police abuses from beatings to false arrests and fatal shootings, according to reports from Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Commission – a city agency that monitors police misconduct.
“With all the political power in the hands of people of color in Philadelphia, nothing has changed with the violent and racist practices,” imprisoned radical Edward “Eddie” Africa said in a recent letter. Africa is one of nine MOVE members convicted for an August 1978 fatal shootout with Philadelphia police that culminated a five-year brutal onslaught by police against the MOVE organization who fought against police brutality–an assault that included the bombing of a house by police which resulted in 11 deaths, including five children,who were known to be in the building at the time that a helicopter dropped the weapon on the roof.
Like those black elected officials lashed in 1978 by columnist Stone for failure to “stand up for their community,” Philadelphia’s current crop of black officials are being blasted for their apparent reticence about assailing abusive, racially discriminatory practices by the city’s police, particularly the city’s controversial Stop-&-Frisk program.
Blacks, in 2012, comprised the overwhelming majority of the 215,000 Philadelphians ensnared by Stop-&-Frisk. Philadelphia’s controversial Stop-&-Frisk – currently under federal court review for alleged abuses – is the signature anti-crime program of black Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and is implemented by Nutter’s handpicked black police commissioner, Charles Ramsey.
Nearly half of the 215,000 Stop-&-Frisks in 2012 were conducted without the ‘reasonable suspicion’ required by law, according to a detailed analysis of Nutter’s controversial program released last year by the Pennsylvania ACLU.
That ACLU analysis also undermined the key premise for Stop-&-Frisk advanced by Nutter, Police Commissioner Ramsey and DA Seth Williams, who all claim Stop-&-Frisk has reduced the number of illegal guns used in street crimes ranging from robberies to homicides.
The ACLU analysis examined 1,852 stops during 2012. That examination showed police recovered only three guns – an exceptionally small recovery rate compared to the exceedingly large numbers of intrusive encounters.
A Stop-&-Frisk encounter reportedly sparked that January 7, 2014 assault on Darrin Manning, an African-American and straight-A student, allegedly by two white Philadelphia police officers, where an improper and unnecessarily rough “pat-down” search by a policewoman allegedly damaged the 16-year-old’s testicle. Ire from black community leaders, including Sharpton’s NAN branch, to that assault on Manning forced Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner and District Attorney to belatedly launch an investigation into the alleged incident.Police and prosecutors initially downplayed that incident, but it has now, in the wake of media attention, morphed into a grand jury investigation.
Despite public outrage and protests, Mayor Nutter has still taken no public position on this incident of abuse, failing even to publicly request an investigation. A spokesman for Nutter said Manning and his family have recourse through legal actions like filing complaints or lawsuits.
None of Philadelphia’s eight black City Council members has taken a public position on the Manning incident either. City Council President Darrell Clark, whose district is where the assault occurred, has criticized Stop-&-Frisk, but has taken no legislative actions against the program that he contends is flawed.
Only one of those 16 blacks from Philadelphia serving in Pennsylvania’s state legislature has publicly condemned the alleged mistreatment of Manning, who is awaiting court action on charges that he assaulted a policeman and resisted arrest. (Police in abuse cases typically charge the person who is abused, often trumping up offenses.)
State Rep W. Curtis Thomas, who represents the district where the assault occurred, called for the suspension of the policewoman who caused damage to Manning’s testicle. Additionally, Thomas called on DA Williams to drop the charges against Manning. “I don’t understand why the District Attorney has charged Darrin with assault when he’s the one who’s been brutalized,” Thomas said.
Dr. Tony Monteiro, a professor of African-American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia and a veteran of campaigns against police abuses, said too many black elected officials embrace the misbelief that reflexive support of police is a required posture for elected office.
Too many black politicians, Dr. Monteiro said, have become part of “the law-&-order establishment that used to be the exclusive territory of white politicians,” and thus have become “unwilling to protect the community against the police.”
One of America’s worst urban riots of the 1960s took place in Newark, NJ, triggered by a July 1967 police brutality incident. That riot, rooted in reactions to institutional racism, ushered the 1970 election of Kenneth Gibson, the first black mayor of any major city in the Northeast. Yet, in 2010, Newark’s then black mayor, Cory Booker, brushed off an ACLU report documenting police brutality in that city. That ACLU report led to a U.S. Justice Department probe, the kind of examination Philadelphia activists have sought, so far unsuccessfully.
Zayid Muhammad, an activist in Newark, NJ, finds the silence on police abuses from so many black elected officials in his city, in Philadelphia and nationwide “disgusting, especially with the long history of police brutality” in America.
Muhammad said blacks must back candidates for elected office who are “supportive of social justice and not just nice people selected by political machines. We need to change our conditions and need people who will stay on point.”