Stingray Uber Alles! St. Louis Cops Drop Case Against Robbery Suspects Rather Than Discuss Use Of IMSI Catcher
from the vigorously-enforcing-the-law-(exceptions-may-apply) dept
According to the FBI and the law enforcement agencies it slaps with restrictive non-disclosure agreements, it's better to have indicted and lost than to not have deployed the Stingray at all.
Just one day before a city police officer was to face questions about a secret device used to locate suspects in a violent robbery spree, prosecutors dropped more than a dozen charges against the three defendants.The department insists the Stingray had nothing to do with the dismissal. In fact, the spokesperson doesn't mention the Stingray at all (because one simply mustn't). Instead, it claims that recently uncovered information has "diminished the prosecutive merits of the case." What an odd statement to make when one suspect has already entered a guilty plea in connection with a robbery spree that resulted in the theft of cash and cell phones from seven people in just under two hours.
The move this month freed the officer from having to testify about a highly controversial surveillance tool — one that is subject to a confidentiality agreement between the St. Louis police and the FBI.
One of the public defenders assigned to the case believes otherwise. A victim's cell phone was traced to a hotel room using "a proven law enforcement technique." What this "technique" involved was never specified. When asked to explain in greater detail, the St. Louis Police Department called it a day. And now it looks as though it may not even be able to hold onto its single guilty plea.
Defense lawyers scheduled a deposition April 9 to ask an intelligence officer under oath about StingRay. But the charges were dismissed April 8 against all but the female defendant. She had already admitted the crimes and agreed to testify against the others but now wants to rescind her guilty plea.This is great news for the victims of the crime spree.
Brandon Pavelich, who was pistol-whipped in one of the robberies and required 18 stitches, said he was “shocked” when prosecutors told him the charges were dropped and explained only that “legal issues” had developed.Sorry 'bout all the stitches, says the FBI. These things will happen, unfortunately, because getting pistol-whipped and relieved of your belongings are integral to protecting this nation against terrorists.
The bureau supplied an April 2014 affidavit from Supervisory Special Agent Bradley Morrison, chief of the Tracking Technology Unit. He wrote that “cell site simulators are exempt from (court) discovery pursuant to the ‘law enforcement sensitive’ qualified evidentiary privilege” and also not subject to freedom of information laws.It's not much of a consolation prize for the victims. In fact, it probably makes things a bit easier for criminals. The "jigsaw puzzle" piece handed over to criminals by this refusal to discuss "techniques" is that cell phone theft has a much better chance of going unprosecuted than criminal activities not involving cell phones. Cell phones are a potential "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Sure, they're also handy tracking devices -- the Narc That Fits in Your Pocket™ -- but if vague but "proven" law enforcement "techniques" are used to obtain warrants or effect arrests, evidentiary challenges and discovery requests have a small chance of resulting in a "screw it" from law enforcement agencies. That's better odds than were in play prior to the widespread use of IMSI catchers.
Any FBI information shared with local authorities “is considered homeland security information,” he wrote. He warned that targets of investigation could benefit from piecing together minor details, “much like a jigsaw puzzle.”
Certainly the victims of criminal activity are righteous in their anger. But where are the courts? They should be incensed that law enforcement feels it can withhold information from judges and defense attorneys simply because the FBI says so. The FBI doesn't have jurisdiction over courts or law enforcement agencies. The only power it does have is to do what it can to block local law enforcement from obtaining or deploying IMSI catchers if they won't play by its rules.
And where's the DOJ in all of this? It stands to reason the FBI is more concerned with prosecutions than justice, but this is a department wholly dedicated to the premise -- even if its actions often run counter to the "justice" ideal. It sits idly by while its subordinate agency tells law enforcement agencies to conceal Stingray usage and to drop cases rather than risk any national insecurity or additional criminal evasiveness.
This has gone past the point of outrage into the realm of the absurd. Dangerous criminals are being cut loose because certain techniques can't be confirmed or denied -- free to roam the streets like anthropomorphized Glomar responses, only with the potential to cause actual harm, rather than simply acting as existential threats to law enforcement techniques or the nation's well-being.