Can the cops really just do whatever the hell they want?
A short time ago, police conducted a sting operation to attempt to lure and catch people on the internet soliciting sex from a minor. They managed to arrest many people in the course of this sting. One person who was arrested happened to be a friend of mine.
On Tuesday, October 16, 2012, at approximately 2:30pm EST, police arrived at my home. They asked for me to verify my identity, and asked if they could come inside the house to speak with me. I complied with their request, and joined them at my dining room table. I assumed they were there to ask me questions about my friend, and asked if that was why they were there. They began asking questions about him, and I complied, answering all questions truthfully. Shortly thereafter, the police began asking questions about me, such as asking if I had any children, or was ever left alone with children. The police then asked if they could take a look around, checking my computer and such. At that point, I asked if they had a search warrant, and they informed me that they did, indeed have a warrant. At that time, the swat team stormed into my home. Police searched both myself and my friend, without consent. I informed officers as they approached to search me that I was carrying multiple firearms, and was in possession of a concealed weapons permit. Police made comments such as "Are you armed with all this because you were expecting us?" and implying that my carrying of said firearms reflected negatively on my character. The warrant was read out loud to me after the SWAT team had entered and cleared the house.
The police then asked me into my back bedroom for some questioning. They asked for personal information such as passwords to any online accounts or local programs on my home system, intimidating me into giving up my private passwords and access to my account. I complied with their request, as they made it seem like I had no option in the matter, and gave them access to everything, even instructing them as to how to find certain things. They then asked if anyone else had ever had access to my computer, with or without my supervision. I informed them that my computer system was powered on, and logged on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that many people had been left alone with it, with unmonitored and unrestricted access, as well as all my logins and passwords being stored locally, with automatic login setup on the machine itself as well as all my online accounts. My friend who was arrested is one of those people who was left alone with my computer for any period of time, with or without me home, as I was unaware that he may use it for anything I might not approve of, since I believed at the time he was trustworthy. On multiple occasions where he was left alone with my computer and other hardware, such as my tablets and phones, I would re-enter the room to find him sitting in my chair in front of my computer desk, when he would raise his hands in the air defensively and exclaim "Don’t worry, I didn’t touch your computer." He had access to my computer at times when programs were open and already logged in with my username and password, providing completely unrestricted access. He would have also had access to my "LastPass" program and account, which would reveal to him, in plain text, any and all passwords I used, giving him unrestricted local and remote access to my system, as well as the ability to create or modify any TrueCrypt volumes on the machine. While I did not use TrueCrypt myself (it was installed on the machine in case I ever did need it to secure information such as tax documents or sensitive client data from my freelance web design customers), he may have used it himself to create, modify, and hide encrypted files that I am unaware of.
I also informed officers that I run multiple remote access servers on the machine, including, but not limited to, a web server, a VNC server, remote desktop protocol, TeamViewer, as well as 2 servers for accessing media remotely, Air Video (for iOS streaming video) and Plex Media Server (used to stream media content to other devices). My web server alone has logs of many hackers attempting to break into my system to access/delete/alter files. It is not known to me at this time if any of the hack attempts were successful, as a skilled hacker would have easily erased any logs of their actions.
I had a friend visiting with me when police arrived, a longtime friend and military veteran. He had in his possession an Android tablet computer belonging to his daughter, and a thumb drive on his key chain. The police seized his property as well, with no due process, or warrant allowing them to do so, as the warrant clearly stated they may only take electronic hardware owned by myself. Both my friend and I made it clear to police multiple times that the tablet and thumb drive belonged to him, and not me. They were both taken anyway, and logged as property of mine seized as evidence.
Questioning stopped and resumed over the course of several hours, each time with police asking me repeated questions. Police acted very intimidating to me, scaring me into answering questions I was not comfortable answering regarding private information, such as what my interests are sexually, and what type of pornography I search for on the internet. They asked if I used file-sharing programs like Limewire at any point, for downloading pornography or any other data. I informed them that Limewire is not installed on my system, nor has it ever been, that I do not use it. I went on to inform them that the only source I used for pornography was a well-known and content-regulated free site, and that I seldom viewed porn in the first place. Police accused me of lying to them, and repeatedly asked if there was "anything I wanted to tell them". I informed them that I have been 100% compliant and honest to that point, and that there was nothing else to tell. Threats were made, using my previous relationships, as well as my job (I work in an adult store) against me as being probable cause to believe I may be in possession of child pornography. At this point, the only probable cause that was stated to me in order to obtain the warrant was that the person they arrested had identified me in a text message to another friend of his that I was his "best friend". I asked if they had anything to go on other than that, and they told me they had spoken to another friend of mine and his sister and that something they said gave them probable cause. The police, at the time of my writing, had not spoken to either of these people about myself, or anything pertaining to the investigation, indeed having had no contact whatsoever with the individuals in question.
The police then informed me they would be seizing any and all computers, or computer-like electronics, as well as any digital storage devices, cameras, etc. I asked why it was necessary to do that, since I have given them all passwords and full access and consent to conduct an on-site investigation of the materials. The detective in question who was speaking to me claimed that my hard drives were encrypted, and they had to seize the machine to conduct off-site investigation and forensics. My hard drives and computer are not, were not, and have never been encrypted. Ever. Officers claimed that the drives were encrypted via TrueCrypt, which I did not learn was possible until moments before writing this statement, as I did research into the subject. In order for the drives to have been encrypted via TrueCrypt, a specialized TrueCrypt boot loader must be installed on the system, and is not present on my system, nor has it ever been.
They went on to seize other property, including but not limited to 3 iPhones, a new iPad, a Windows tablet computer, my PC and all attached peripherals, as well as taking the deed to my home from my safe. I also later discovered my PSP (PlayStation Portable) to be missing as well, despite not being logged as being taken.
Police continued to badger me, asking the same questions repeatedly. At this point I told them I did not wish to speak to them any further without an attorney present. When I made that statement, they got very angry with me. The police then started trashing my home, causing damage to the internal structure, damaging personal property, and simply making a huge mess. Their reaction seemed very retaliatory. I asked if I could approach my bedroom door, to see what they were doing in the room that was causing so much noise, since it sounded like they were wrecking my home. Police would not allow me to stand up, or move about at all. They then approached me again, and began asking more questions, many of them the same repeated questions, after I said I didn’t want to speak to them without legal representation. The police laughed at me, said "oh, you don’t HAVE to talk to us" and went on to say I "am probably the same type of monster" as my "friend". They went on to use my place of employment (an adult store) to judge me and assumed based on that, I must be some sort of sick pervert. My employer, upon learning this fact, informed me that they may have to fire me because they can’t afford to have the negative publicity.
During the search, I inquired as to if I were under arrest, or being charged with any crime at that moment. I was informed that I was indeed NOT under arrest, or charged. I asked "Well, since I’m not under arrest, may I please stand up from this chair, so that I may get a drink, and make a phone call?" and was denied the right. I asked for my phone, and was denied. I asked investigators if I could at least have them write down a particular number from my phone so I could call someone, and they denied me that as well. Eventually, after asking no less than a dozen times, I was given the number I requested, and allowed to make a phone call from a cellular phone belonging to my friend who was there at the time.
Shortly thereafter, I was informed the search was completed, and that they would be leaving. I was given a list of items they took. Not everything they took was listed, not everything listed was mine, and the page following the list with a signed and sworn statement of the taken possessions was not presented to me at any time. Upon investigation of the warrant, I found that the final page containing the signature of the judge stated "signed and SEALED before me" but there were no official stamps, notarizations, or embossments on the page. After police left my home, I entered the other rooms (front office, rear bedroom) to find closet doors ripped off hinges, property of both myself and my friend either missing or damaged, and irreplaceable family heirlooms damaged.
The police, when asked how long they would be keeping my property, told me that they "know for a fact the drives are encrypted" (a false statement) and that they would keep it until they broke the encryption (which does not exist on the system). Amongst the devices they seized were electronics I currently have listed for sale on the internet, and I now cannot sell because they are not in my possession. One of my jobs, as a freelance web site developer, I cannot perform now because I do not have a computer on which to perform said work.
I am embarrassed and ashamed to have had my friends and neighbors watch as my home was raided in a child pornography sting, a crime I am not, and never have been guilty of. Some friends even deleted me off their Facebook and refuse to talk to me because they’re afraid that if they do, police will come after them too, just for being associated with me.
I do not have enough money to afford legal representation, to mount a defense if questionable items turn up in the search, or dare I say it, should the police choose to be dirty and plant evidence on my devices. They have lied about almost everything up to this point, and it would not surprise me if they went that far to come after me simply so they can make their numbers look better. I have genuine concern they may do this.
If this happens, and I am arrested, I do not even have the resources to acquire bond, since I don’t have much money, and the only thing I could use for collateral (my home) is not an option because the police took the deed to my home from my personal safe, and did not log it as being taken. (edit: I re-acquired my deed via the county clerk’s office, and had to pay for it)
I feel as though my civil rights have been blatantly violated, due to illegal search and seizure without probable cause, as well as excessive force via intimidation tactics. Simply knowing a person who was arrested is not enough suspicion to seize their property, and if this individual told him that I supposedly had child pornography in my possession, the word of a recently arrested pedophile sex offender is most certainly not a word you can trust. It is simply not possible that they could have had any other probable cause, because none of the material in question had been viewed, accessed, or saved to any property belonging to me, by myself. An in-depth look at my internet browsing patterns will prove that not only have I not accessed or viewed content of that nature, I have never even looked for it. I should also mention that I changed all my personal passwords online (Facebook, Email, etc.) because I was not under obligation to share that information with authorities. Yesterday (Saturday, October 20, 2012) I attempted to log into my Facebook account and was told my account was locked due to an excessive number of login attempts, as well as attempts to gain access via security questions, leading me to believe that either police, or a hacker, were attempting unauthorized access to my account. I am unaware at this time if such an attempt has been made on any other account of mine.
I have no idea what to do, or where to start, nor can I afford legal representation should authorities find something questionable on my electronics, due to use by either my friend they arrested or any of the many people with access to them. This is a serious accusation, one that is very difficult to defend in any court, and there is simply no way for me to afford the representation I would need to defend such a case, be it in state or federal court. I simply do not have the recourse to mount a defense, and the police investigating me know that, and are going too far, because they believe there’s nothing I can do to defend against them. I have already suffered significant expenses due to having to acquire yet another cellular phone (no choice, I don’t have home phone service), as well as being forced to continue paying a monthly payment for a phone the police seized, due to being under contract.
My employer followed through on the warning about terminating my employment due to the investigation against me. Even though no charges have been filed against me, effective at 1pm EST on 10/24/2012 my employer has terminated my employment, citing fears that police may seize property of the business, or publicize the business name in association with any investigation into me.
Additionally, on this day I contacted the Sheriff’s office requesting an update on my property that was seized as evidence. The evidence department informed me that no evidence had been turned in at this point, but the case number was valid, and confirmed the name of the lead investigator.
I called the Sheriff’s office again to request an update, to see if any evidence had been logged yet. The woman on the other end of the phone (who did not give her name) informed me that the investigator in charge of the case asked that she tell me to call the Internet Sex Crimes against Children Task Force for more information. I asked for a phone number to reach them, and was refused. A Google search turned up the number for this division, and I called, only to be told that they do not have my property, and referred me back to the Sheriff’s office.
I received a consultation from an attorney about 2 weeks ago, and he informed me the best course of action was to request the affidavit of probable cause, which would have been necessary to obtain the search warrant in the first place, and is public record. The attorney called and requested the document, and was told it would need to be “approved” and would be sent within 2-3 days. Almost 3 weeks later, the document has not been supplied. I do not believe that it even exists, as I know for a fact it would have been impossible for there to have been probable cause.
I’m at my wits end, I just want my stuff back. I don’t know what else I can do. Almost all attorneys have turned me away. The ACLU is uninterested in helping me. The EFF says they don’t handle stuff like this. I can’t use a public defender unless I’m charged. I can file a formal complaint or a civil suit, but that’s likely to just provoke them into making something up to arrest me for, and figure it out later. What’s worst, is I only have something like 6 months to make a complaint, but they have 5 years to decide whether or not to charge me with anything, and up to a year to keep my stuff for no reason at all. I need my stuff back, and I know it wasn’t encrypted, they only took it to run magnetic force microscopy on the drives. They’ve had more than enough time to look and see that nothing is there.
What can I do? I’m scared, angry, and running out of options.
Update: I have decided to include photos from moments after the police left, as well as the video my friend took of the minutes after they left.
Please take the time to watch this video as well.
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