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Man at center of ‘StingRay’ ruling files suit against Baltimore police

Kerron Andrews and his mother, Apit, earlier this month.(Photo submitted)

Kerron Andrews and his mother, Apit, earlier this month.
(Photo submitted)

A Baltimore man whose arrest led to the Court of Special Appeals’ landmark ruling on the use of cell site simulators has filed a civil lawsuit against city police.

Kerron Andrews alleges police violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches when it used one of the devices, called “Hailstorm,” to track and arrest Andrews for attempted murder in May 2014.

“Defendants ignored and disregarded Plaintiff’s constitutional rights and used Hailstorm technology to locate and track Plaintiff and his cellphone in real-time without first obtaining a warrant from a judge to do so,” states the complaint, filed Thursday afternoon in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Andrews, who had been detained since his arrest, was released April 1 and placed on home detention, according to Deborah Levy of the Office of the Public Defender, who represents Andrews in his criminal case.

Andrews’ primary concern, Levy said Friday, is the countless other people sitting in prison based on arrests made using the technology.

“These violations of the Constitution are vile,” added James B. Astrachan, who is representing Andrews in the civil litigation.

Astrachan’s firm, Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC in Baltimore, is interested in speaking with other individuals who believe the technology may have been used without a warrant to locate them. The lawsuit estimates city police have tracked at least 2,000 people using what is popularly called “StingRay technology.”

The public defender’s office has begun attempting to locate other cases where the technology was used, according to Daniel Kobrin, who represented Andrews on appeal.

In Andrews’ criminal case, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled the evidence police obtained through use of Hailstorm could be suppressed. On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals last month upheld the decision, finding the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant or similar order to turn a cellphone into a tracking device. The appellate court became the first one at the state or federal level to address the constitutionality of police use of StingRay technology.

Police have been more willing to provide testimony about the technology since knowledge of its use has become public, Levy said, but departments historically have refused based on non-disclosure agreements signed with the companies providing the cell site simulators.

The Court of Special Appeals held a warrant or an order that rises to the level of a warrant must be issued for law enforcement to use the technology.

The nearly 75-page opinion laid out the recent history of courts’ attempts to grapple with the privacy concerns of citizens as technological developments make it easier for law enforcement to glean information without their knowledge.

Judge Andrea M. Leahy, writing for the panel, found that “people have a reasonable expectation of privacy that their cell phones will not be used as real-time tracking devices by law enforcement.”

Andrews’ civil lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing police from using StingRay technology “without first obtaining a warrant that describes with reasonable particularity the location where the cell-site simulator may be activated.”

He also seeks more than $75,000 for “emotional trauma and distress” for being detained for nearly two years.

The case is Kerron D. Andrews v. Baltimore City Police Department, et al.