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ACLU: Documents Show Effort of Police and US Marshals to Deceive Courts in Use of Controversial “Stringrays“

The ACLU has uncovered instructions from the US Marshals Service that appear to tell police to actively deceive judges and defendants about the use of the controversial surveillance tool called Stingrays.

Courtroom. (Photo via Shutterstock)

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There is a highly disturbing story out of Florida where the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has uncovered instructions from the U.S. Marshals Service that appear to tell police to actively deceive judges and defendants about the use of the controversial surveillance tool called Stingrays, or IMSI catchers, which simulate a cellphone tower and trick any nearby mobile devices into connecting with them. The federal officials reportedly told police to lie to courts and defendants and say that the suspect’s location came from a “confidential source.”

The ACLU acquired five emails from April, 2009 detailing the deception. The emails are shocking and constitute an open and knowing effort to lie to courts in sworn documents — a crime. In one email, a Sarasota Police Department sergeant flagged that a North Port detective had mistakenly told the truth about the source of information and “specifically outlined the investigative means used to locate the suspect.” The detective was told to “submit a new PCA [probable cause affidavit] and seal the old one.” That would put a false account on the record and seal the truth. The instructions were clearly stated as coming from the U.S. Marshals: “In the past, and at the request of the U.S. Marshalls [sic], the investigative means utilized to locate the suspect have not been revealed so that we may continue to utilize this technology without the knowledge of the criminal element. In reports or depositions we simply refer to the assistance as ‘received information from a confidential source regarding the location of the suspect.’ To date this has not been challenged . . . ” That last part is particularly galling. It suggests that they have succeeded in the deception because no one is the wiser and no challenge has been brought. It is not only a knowing conspiracy to mislead the courts but it is a denial of protection constitutional rights of defendants to use evidence. It is not clear if this effort resulted in any false oral testimony from police on the stand.

The U.S. Marshals Service has not responded to calls for comment.

Average citizens are routinely charged with even the smallest misrepresentations to federal officials or false statements in court or before the grand jury. Here is a paper trail showing an express effort to deceive courts and defendants and file false sworn statements. Yet, there is no indication of a single disciplinary action, let alone a criminal investigation.

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