Oakland Officers Fail to Find Suspect Through Surveillance so Feds Step In—All Without a Warrant
In Oakland, California, feds were caught helping local police departments to spy on suspects without warrants. And in at least one instance, the individual targeted, Purvis Ellis, wasn’t even the main suspect in the murder case that led to his capture.
According to Tech Dirt, court documents obtained by Ars Technica show that the Oakland Police Department used stingray technology without seeking a warrant first against Ellis in 2013. The use of the device was deployed in order to catch the suspect who had been associated with the attempted murder of officer Eric Karsserboom.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stingrays “are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information.”
Oakland police attempted to use an older version of the device in 2013 to find one of the suspects in the attempted killing of a police officer, but officials were unsuccessful. They then reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), asking federal agents to step in. Promptly after, FBI officials were able to locate the suspect using a more advanced stingray technology.
But despite the successful operation, state and federal officers failed to follow the constitution, ignoring the need for a warrant.
During the suspect’s trial, both the FBI and the Oakland PD stated that they didn’t need to obtain a warrant at the time due to “exigent circumstances.” In the FBI case, officials also claim the warrant requirement was not in place at the time of the operation, making the evidence obtained through surveillance tactics less likely to be tossed by a judge.
Nevertheless, news sources were finally able to report on this story since the judge presiding over the suspect’s prosecution ordered the government to submit detailed information on how Ellis was located. But despite the commotion surrounding Ellis, he has not been accused of actually shooting the officer, prompting privacy advocates to wonder whether the police has used the same surveillance tactics in other similar cases, targeting individuals who have not been accused of a crime and going to the lengths both the FBI and the Oakland PD went to keep this a secret.
Two years after the 2013 incident, the Oakland Police Department tried to secure a grant from the Department of Homeland Security in order to upgrade their stingray technology, suggesting that local police had been invested in this type of surveillance tactics long after the Ellis case. The technology local officials had at the time was unable to locate the suspect, but the latest system used by the FBI got the job done pretty quickly.
But details regarding why the suspect was targeted and why only his phone was intercepted were never revealed. All we know up until now is that two law enforcement agencies suspended the potential suspect’s rights to privacy, even as they knew that he hadn’t shot the officer.
Whether Ellis was directly involved in the attempted murder remains a mystery. But what should also be addressed in this case is the fact that individuals who haven’t been formally accused of a crime nor charged are being targeted by both local and federal law enforcement agents who continue to ignore the unconstitutionality of their actions.
States have been pushing their own anti-federal surveillance laws as the nullification movement initiated by groups like the Tenth Amendment Center gains more ground. But the American individual’s privacy rights won’t be truly upheld until federal agencies have been stripped of their surveillance powers.