Baltimore Prosecutors Withdraw Evidence Rather Than Talk About Police Department's Stingray Usage

from the should-go-back-to-simpler-days-of-planting-evidence-and-falsifying-reports dept

They justify the use of Stingray devices (IMSI catchers/cell tower spoofers) by pointing out how great they are at catching criminals. They justify the secrecy surrounding them by claiming the release of any details will compromise investigations. And then they pull something like this.

Baltimore prosecutors withdrew key evidence in a robbery case Monday rather than reveal details of the cellphone tracking technology police used to gather it.

So… great for catching crooks but not all that great at keeping them caught. How embarrassing. That has to suck for Baltimore citizens, who have just discovered their local PD prizes non-disclosure agreements over putting bad guys away.

City police Det. John L. Haley, a member of a specialized phone tracking unit, said officers did not use the controversial device known as a stingray. But when pressed on how phones are tracked, he cited what he called a “nondisclosure agreement” with the FBI.

Which most people would take to mean don’t go around spilling the details to normal citizens, family members or journalists. But as we’ve seen repeatedly, law enforcement agencies have taken this FBI-required NDA to mean (very conveniently, I might add) that they’re allowed to tell no one. Goodbye, crusty old “due process” ideals. Hello, parallel construction.

But in this case, the judge responded with an obvious statement — one that is made far too infrequently.

“You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court,” Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams replied.

Then Judge Williams called the PD’s bluff: explain the evidence’s origin or face contempt charges. Faced with this, the prosecution folded.

It’s no secret the Baltimore Police Dept. has a Stingray device. Here’s a document from 2009 containing the city council’s approval of the Stingray purchase. Here’s another document showing the PD’s request for additional funds to upgrade the device. The general public is already aware of the device’s existence and capabilities, and yet, the police balk at discussing it publicly, even if it means potentially damaging a prosecutor’s case.

It’s not just the phone-related evidence that’s being withdrawn. It’s everything derived from that Stingray-related search, including a handgun.

This isn’t Judge Williams’ first experience with police officers unwilling to discuss Stingray usage. The Baltimore Sun reports he also dealt with a non-discussion of the technology back in September. The device was used to track a phone (and a suspect) to a certain location. When Williams asked how the officers ascertained that the suspect actually had the phone on him, they actually invoked national security rather than answer the question.

“This kind of goes into Homeland Security issues, your honor,” [Sgt. Scott] Danielczyk said.

Williams nailed this response, too.

“If it goes into Homeland Security issues, then the phone doesn’t come in,” Williams said. “I mean, this is simple. You can’t just stop someone and not give me a reason.”

That’s how this is supposed to work. If law enforcement agencies want to deploy super-secret technology, then they shouldn’t be able to drag evidence of unexplained origin into the courts with them. Allowing them to have it both ways steamrolls due process.

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Comments on “Baltimore Prosecutors Withdraw Evidence Rather Than Talk About Police Department's Stingray Usage”

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54 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Kudos to the judge

Being willing to forbid evidence if it comes from a source that the defense can’t, or isn’t allowed, to challenge is something you see far too rarely these days, with far too many judges just rolling over as soon as ‘National Security: Because Terrorists!(tm)’ is invoked, so awesome job by the judge for actually standing up for the rights of the public.

On a semi-related note, the fact that they were willing to withdraw key evidence rather than explain how they got it makes it pretty clear that the justification that they need the stingray towers to ‘catch criminals’ is nothing more than a nice sounding lie.

They are willing to let a potentially guilty individual walk rather than inform the court of just how they got the evidence against them, so clearly they believe the secrecy surrounding the stingray use/tech is of higher importance than actually catching and stopping criminals.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Kudos to the judge

That likely is the reason yes, the fear on their part that if the judge or public find out not that they have the technology and capabilities(something that everyone already knows), but just how much, and in particularly how widespread and indiscriminately they are deploying it, they might lose their latest shiny ‘toy’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Kudos to the judge

Just a thought, but a single Stingray is not sufficient by itself to locate a phone to any particular location. One therefore wonders what capabilities of the phone that the stingray is invoking, like GPS, getting it to triangulate itself from nearby towers, turning on its microphone etc. That pesky baseband processor in a phone runs proprietary and unknown code and is nor replaced by cyanogen mod etc.

Deputy Dickwad says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Kudos to the judge

This is why we NEED non disclosure agreements!

You are a shining example of an inorant citizen that need something taught to them.

So listenup fukwads..

If the phone or other cell service wireless device, car, ipad, laptop data card, what ever, is not moving you move your stingray, take multiple DF (Direction Finging) readings continuiously that feed in to, ironically, the stingray’s iPad app, and blammo perp caught!, along with all of the sexts you can shake your stick at!

Being better than all you peeons IS AWESOME!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Kudos to the judge

If they do not have a link to a back haul, they will be interrupting phone calls that are in progress, and failing calls made by, or to the phones whose signals that they have captured, along with thew same for texts and Internet connectivity. That is without a connection to a back haul, use of stingray becomes very noticeable. A back haul link can be a radio link, fixed line link, and (speculation here) possibly a 3G or higher phone link.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Kudos to the judge

If they do not have a link to a back haul, they will be interrupting phone calls that are in progress, and failing calls made by, or to the phones whose signals that they have captured, along with thew same for texts and Internet connectivity.

Don’t stingrays often mess up cell communications in the area where they’re being used?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Kudos to the judge

They are willing to let a potentially guilty individual walk rather than inform the court of just how they got the evidence against them.

You’re missing the big picture: it’s a numbers game. Sure they had to let one potential criminal go, but by not revealing the use of a Stingray they’ll be able to catch ten times as many suspects that can’t be successfully prosecuted.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Erosion of the exclusionary rule...

It’s good to see one case where the exclusionary rule is applied judiciously. It’s one of the cornerstones of Constitutional protection we THE INNOCENT have until proven guilty. Its erosion has had horrific results.

I’m surprised the cops didn’t take the gun, the wallet, the credit card, and the keys and sue the property, because civil forfeiture. Good on the Judge for calling them on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn't working out well in Baltimore

The murder rate is up. Gang warfare is escalating. (And one gang apparently runs the city jail.) And so on.

So we actually need the machinery of justice to work effectively: identify the perpetrators. Accumulate evidence against them. Arrest them. Prove, in a court of law, that they are guilty. Do so in full compliance with the Constitution so that police or prosecutorial malfeasance doesn’t result in a mistrial or a verdict thrown out on appeal.

In other words: do it by the book, the way it’s supposed to be done. Dot i’s. Cross t’s. No shortcuts, no bullshit “ooooh national security” crap, no parallel construction, none of that.

But that’s not what’s happening. And by screwing it up, they’re making Baltimore less safe for those of us who live here or want to take in a ballgame or watch a show or whatever. Yeah, there’s a heavily-patrolled bubble around the Inner Harbor that’s kept (mostly) safe for tourists, but outside there it’s The Wire in a lot of places.

Turn off the Stingray and do police work. Hard, laborious, boring, interminable police work. That’s how it’s done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This isn't working out well in Baltimore

The murder rate is up. Gang warfare is escalating.

. Inb4 ‘police are gangs’ comment. But seriously why has it dawned on so few groups that this ‘tough on crime’ attitude that we’ve had since Nixon is not only failing, it’s actively making society worse! Until we start looking at the root causes of crime and move to a system that prioritizes rehabilitation this shit will continue. Of course there are plenty of monied interests who want to keep the status quo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: This isn't working out well in Baltimore

There’s nothing “liberal” about it: it’s reality. Decades of “tough on crime” have yielded: more crime.

It hasn’t worked. It’s not working. It’s not going to work.

So it’s time to dump it and try something else. ANYTHING else. This isn’t a matter of ideology, it’s a matter of practicality: continuing down a path that leads inexorably to excruciatingly obvious failure is just plain stupid.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This isn't working out well in Baltimore

… continuing down a path that leads inexorably to excruciatingly obvious failure is just plain stupid.

Which leads right back to the real crime being done here: the war on drugs. That is the essential point that’s always ignored here. It justifies the trillions of dollars spent on law enforcement, the militarization of police, the gutting of the Constitution, the lieing and deception by politicians, the competition between LEOs, the multiplicity of parallel LEOs, and the creation of a ubiquitous crime wave for “abusing” substances.

Stop punishing people for victimless crimes, and all that will become far more sensible, and usable against authentic criminals, those who actually victimize people.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 This isn't working out well in Baltimore

Define “Victimless.” If you’re growing and taking your own drug of choice, it’s victimless. If you’re a cokehead you’re funding the violence the people of South America are suffering. They’re the victims.

That said, I favor an approach that treats drug use as a health issue and ending the War on Drugs.

People who cling to the idea of maintaining failed programs because principle are missing the point; the whole idea behind the principles is that putting them into practice is the solution. If it’s not, those principles are wrong.

Rehabilitation V Revenge

Wrecking people’s lives over minor crimes and misdemeanors isn’t solving any problems. I honestly believe that only dangerous people should be locked up and every other criminal should make restitution to their victims as part of a community-based scheme.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This isn't working out well in Baltimore

In re the murder rate: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/sun-investigates/bs-md-sun-investigates-stats-20141115-story.html

Some of those are gang-related, and even more unfortunately, some of the victims have nothing to do with gangs:

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-09-22/news/bs-md-ci-shooting-20140922_1_maryland-shock-trauma-center-mcelderry-park-baltimore-sun
and
http://www.wbaltv.com/news/woman-child-shot-in-north-baltimore/27269464

A visualization of those (which can be adjusted to show all in 2014, all in the last 30 days, etc.) is here: http://data.baltimoresun.com/bing-maps/homicides/index.php?range=2014&district=all&zipcode=all&age=all&gender=all&race=all&cause=all&article=all&show_results=Show+results

Sure enough, if you zoom in, you’ll see that the areas around the Inner Harbor (which shows up labeled as such once you zoom in enough) such as Fells Point, the Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, etc. make up a conspicuous island in the middle of the sea. Those areas are blanketed with police on foot, bike, Segway, etc. because that’s where the moneymakers are. Or maybe this map sums it up better: http://judgmentalmaps.com/post/84140769295/baltimore

In re gangs running the jail:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2013/04/24/black_guerilla_family_how_a_gang_took_over_baltimore_s_jails.html
and
http://www.fbi.gov/baltimore/press-releases/2013/thirteen-correctional-officers-among-25-black-guerilla-family-gang-members-and-associates-indicted-on-federal-racketeering-charges

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

the charges don’t immediately need to go … the prosecution just needs evidence to back up the charges. I expect the defence now asks the court what the charges are, The State cannot hold someone indefinitely without good Lawful reasons, O wait, this is the U.S. so, the fellow has an fatal accident in custody.

Chris Brand says:

I don't understand the FBI or these police departments

If you’re offered a tool to help you collect evidence, you know damn well that if the evidence is any good, you’re going to want to present it in court, and that due process allows the defence to challenge how that evidence was collected, etc. So you know that if such a tool comes with a “non-disclosure agreement” that forbids you from describing it in court, the tool itself is actually useless to you. This should be a no-brainer decision for any PD in this situation – “That tool sounds great, I’d love to get one, but it’s almost useless with that NDA, so I’ll have to pass”.

And of course the FBI is in exactly the same situation, and certainly should know better than to even offer this tool to PDs on this basis.

The conclusion is that the people we entrust to enforce the law have decided to ignore it when it’s inconvenient to them. That’s a very sad statement on the state of the US today.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: I don't understand the FBI or these police departments

A lot of the time they’re banking on the judge buying the argument that, due to [REDACTED] they can’t make the methods available, so they don’t have to actually present how they got a particular piece of evidence, they can just present it unchallenged(and unchallengable).

That or evidence laundering, where they get all the evidence from a source that won’t stand up in court, and then try and figure out ways to pretend they got it some other, legal, way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Contempt

Williams threatened to hold Haley in contempt if he did not respond. Prosecutors decided to withdraw the evidence instead.

Instead? Obviously they can’t use the evidence, but he should STILL be held in contempt.

The defense generally has the right to see evidence in a case whether or not the prosecution actually uses the evidence in court. (For example, the prosecution generally wouldn’t use a fingerprint of an unknown person as evidence – but they still *must* turn that evidence over to the defense.)

If it’s truly a “homeland security” issue, then maybe you shouldn’t keep using it in robbery cases.

And somehow I think it’s uncommon for a prosecutor to simply decide to not use a boatload of evidence because a witness refuses to testify. If this was a “normal” person, they’d be glad to use the prospect of contempt to pressure them into testifying. Prosecutors are willing to allow abuse victims to be jailed for not testifying about their abuse. They’ll support a contempt sentence of 20 years even when the testimony is “not critical”. They will jail reporters for not revealing sources. But in this case, it’s a cop, someone the prosecutor views as being on “their team”. So they let it drop.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Contempt

Williams threatened to hold Haley in contempt if he did not respond. Prosecutors decided to withdraw the evidence instead.

Instead? Obviously they can’t use the evidence, but he should STILL be held in contempt.

Fucking A! Damned right! Thank you. I was thinking exactly the same thought when I saw this. “You brought evidence into this court that was obviously excluded by Constitutional protections?!? Are you mental?!? Have you even read the Constitution? You swore an oath to protect it as a condition of gaining your job (employment)!”

Fire the @@@@@@@@@@@ (whatever that means in your jurisdiction), and prosecute him for negligence at the very least!

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