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Baltimore man found via police ‘StingRay’ argues civil case should have discovery

A Baltimore man who filed a federal lawsuit after the Court of Special Appeals ruled police did not have a valid warrant to use cell site simulator technology to locate him is asking a judge to reject the Baltimore police’s motion to dismiss the case and allow it to proceed to discovery.

The civil case filed by Kerron Andrews in 2016 was placed on hold while the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered a case with similar technology, colloquially referred to as “StingRay.” The appellate court issued its opinion in May, and the Baltimore Police Department filed a motion to dismiss Andrews’ lawsuit in June.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake heard arguments Thursday but did not rule on the police department’s motion, which claims an order signed by a judge permitting officers to intercept real-time cell site information to locate Andrews, who had an arrest warrant for attempted murder, was a valid warrant.

Assistant City Solicitor Brent D. Schubert told Blake she should look at the documents filed with a Baltimore judge, which will satisfy the requirements of a warrant.

But attorneys for Andrews said the secrecy around the StingRay technology led to police ignoring and disregarding his constitutional rights and more information about policies and procedures surrounding its use are necessary.

“We need discovery to find out how this thing worked in this case and what it did,” attorney H. Mark Stichel told Blake.

The technology mimics a cell tower, looking for a particular cellphone based on a serial number and making the phone transmit its location without the owner’s knowledge. Andrews was detained for nearly two years after police used one of the devices, called “Hailstorm,” to locate him in a private residence with his phone in his pocket in May 2014.

The Court of Special Appeals, in its 2016 opinion, was critical of the nondisclosure agreement police entered with the company providing the device which prevents disclosure of information, even to the court.

Stichel said that in an effort to comply with the agreement, police misled judges about the technology and, in Andrews’ case obtained a “pen register/trap and trace order” that requires a cell-service provider to release phone records, which the Court of Special Appeals ruled did not qualify as a warrant.

“This isn’t a one-off where one officer, by mistake, decided to ask for a pen register order,” said Stichel, of Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC in Baltimore.

Andrews’ civil lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing police from using the technology without a warrant, which Schubert said is not necessary because of a law that went into effect in 2014 requiring an order supported by probable cause for its use.

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

The case is Kerron Andrews v. Baltimore Police Department et al., 1:16cv02010.

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