Category Archives: Laws effecting Investigators

How hard is it to get a warrant?

cell phone recordConnecticut claims it is too hard to get a warrant to obtain the cell phone records. In Connecticut-the police can obtain the cell phone records of “anybody” with an “ex parte  application. Here is the article from “a public defender”.

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Don’t use cellular phone to track without a warrant

cell phone track“Police violated a burglary suspect’s state constitutional right to privacy when they located him using cellphone tracking information without first obtaining a warrant, a New Jersey appeals court ruled on Friday.

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Filed under Domestic Investigations, GPS, Laws, Laws effecting Investigators, News of PI's, Professional Investigations, Surveillance

With No Unified Database, Many Murder Victims Remain Nameless – WNYC

With No Unified Database, Many Murder Victims Remain Nameless – WNYC. The need for a national database of missing persons.

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Private Investigators convicted of wire fraud

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 04:  Comedian Chris Ro...
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The dangers of the job are more than physical. Sometimes we do stick our noses where they don’t belong.

Private investigators sentenced for wire fraud


TACOMA, Wash. — An employee of a private investigation company and a woman who hired the firm have been spared prison time for illegal dirt digging.

Steven W. Berwick, who worked for Emilio A. and Brandy N. Torrella at BNT Investigations in Belfair, and Darci P. Templeton, a private eye based in Houston, were sentenced in federal court Friday to supervised release and probation, respectively. Both pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges, and Berwick also pleaded guilty to identity theft.

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GPS and the investigator

Here is a story provided by Jim Mabry. Just another day on the job…Hingham, Mass.


POLICE NEWS: Private investigator eyed in bomb scare

Thu Apr 16, 2009, 03:02 PM EDT

Hingham –  

The private investigator, who police believe, is responsible for installing a GPS unit under a car that public safety officials thought was a bomb could face felony charges and have to cover the cost of a 4- hour investigation.

Police spokesman, Lt. Michael Peraino, said a concerned resident in the apartments at One Station Street called police at 5:10 p.m. on Tuesday (April 14) after looking out his window and seeing a man pull up in a car with Florida plates. The witnesses reported the man got out of his car and went over to a green Honda that was parked in the apartment complex’s parking lot. He then got on the ground and went underneath the Honda. The witness said he looked like he was putting something under the car.

Police officers arrived and saw a device under the Honda but could not identify it. The owner of the car, who is from Brazil, was out of town but due back that night, police said. The owner of the Honda lives at the complex and has been having a child custody dispute with his wife.

“The Hingham Fire Department was dispatched to the scene but also could not identify the device. The State Police Bomb Squad was called and the MBTA was notified to stop all Greenbush trains, police said.

The area was evacuated. The bomb squad used a robotic camera to take a look at the device but could not identify it. The bomb squad then used at water canon that fires water at high pressure to knock the device off the car. The device turned out to a GPS unit.

The private investigator could be charged with possession of a hoax device and be responsible for paying the cost of tying up police and fire departments and stopping the train.

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Transparency and the Jacksonville Police Department

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This is transparency.  Makes accountabilty as a “public official”  very real for this employees.

Report: 6 Jacksonville Beach officers disciplined in 2008

JACKSONVILLE BEACH – Six police officers were disciplined last year after internal affairs investigations showed they violated rules of conduct in cases including a drunken-driving arrest, auto accidents and an unauthorized chase.

One of the most serious penalties was issued to Cpl. Robert Bacon, the officer who fatally shot a man who threatened him with a gun in 2005.

A summary of Bacon’s internal affairs report and several others recently became public as part of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department’s annual internal report.

Bacon received 80 hours’ suspension, a demotion in rank and six months’ probation for showing up intoxicated at the Police Department about 8 p.m. Oct. 3, according to the report. He was off-duty at the time.

Bacon wasn’t arrested or charged with drunken driving. However, his behavior drew the attention of another officer, who noticed his awkward parking and unsteady gait. Bacon told the officer not to report him to the supervisor on duty and asked him to drive him somewhere, causing the officer to leave his post, the records said.

Bacon received a medal of valor and was promoted to sergeant after the 2005 shooting of 21-year-old Jamie Williams, which police and prosecutors concluded was justified.

Police said Williams and two friends were involved in a botched plot on Oct. 11, 2005, to rob and kill a Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleader in Neptune Beach. After fleeing an attempted burglary at the cheerleader’s house, Williams got a gun, ran into the ocean and turned the weapon to his own head. He then pointed the gun at Bacon and refused Bacon’s orders to drop it.

During last year’s internal affairs investigation, Bacon told officers that he had consumed four beers hours before he arrived at the department. As part of his discipline, Bacon was required to participate in the Employee Assistance Program.

Alcohol also created a problem for Officer Dan Watts, who was arrested July 28 on Jacksonville’s Westside and charged with a drunken-driving accident. Watts was driving home from work about 2:30 a.m. when he ran a red light at Chaffee Road and his truck struck a commercial cargo tractor-trailer. No one was seriously injured in the accident.

Watts received 200 hours’ suspension for violating codes of conduct. In addition, the department required him to participate in the Employee Assistance Program and indefinitely suspended his use of patrol cars, requiring him to patrol the community with a bicycle or Segway.

Records in his internal affairs file show Watts’s blood-alcohol level was about 0.16, twice the legal limit to drive. Watts told internal investigation officers that he had four to six drinks over a four-hour period before the accident.

Here are some of the details in the other four cases:

– Canine Officer Craig Pfeuffer received a written reprimand after he destroyed a patrol car about 2 a.m. Aug. 22 during a high-speed chase on 13th Avenue South and Roberts Drive. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt during the incident.

Pfeuffer was chasing people who had fled a home invasion robbery on Sixth Avenue South. The roads were wet because Tropical Storm Fay had drenched the area.

At one point, Pfeuffer drove up to 73 mph as he pursued the car west on 13th Avenue South. He put on the brakes as he neared the curve at Roberts Drive. But he lost control of the car and it jumped the curb, went airborne and landed in the bushes near a chain link fence.

– Officer Brandon Shoemaker received a written reprimand for chasing people in a stolen truck Aug. 31. Those in the truck were fleeing a burglary in Ocean Cay, a neighborhood off South Beach Parkway.

Shoemaker was chasing the truck about 10 p.m., going south on Third Street South, when a sergeant told him to “break it off” because there was too much traffic and the suspects were involved only in a property crime. Despite the sergeant’s order, Shoemaker turned on the patrol car’s lights and sirens and continued the chase for a few more minutes, the internal affairs report said.

Shortly after crossing into St. Johns County, the suspects’ vehicle lost control and crashed. No one was seriously injured.

– Another case, involving the improper use of a criminal background search in March, led to 30 hours’ suspension for Officer Shawn Stieb and 10 hours’ suspension for Officer Jason Ashton.

Stieb told investigators that he needed to get a criminal background check on his daughter’s friend before she could attend the senior prom with his daughter in St. Johns County. Students who don’t attend St. Johns County public schools can’t buy a prom ticket until they are cleared by a criminal background check.

Ashton was disciplined for letting Stieb do the computerized criminal justice search with his identification number and agreed to sign a memo confirming the girl did not have a criminal record. City policy prohibits police officers from using the criminal background system for personal reasons.

– Officer Michael Branscom received a written reprimand for cursing and using unnecessary force on a woman at a loud house party in the 1300 block of Sixth Avenue North. About 40 people attended the Oct. 4 party, where underage people were drinking alcohol, Branscom said.

He said he entered the back door and asked everyone to quiet down, but they wouldn’t comply. He asked the 21-year-old woman who was hosting the party to help get the situation under control, but she yelled at him, saying he didn’t have the right to enter her house without a warrant. When the woman’s screaming and yelling escalated, Branscom started to handcuff her and she fell to the ground and continued resisting him.

Later, Branscom removed the woman’s handcuffs and issued a citation to her and her brother for hosting the party. He acknowledged using profanity and losing his temper during the incident.

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Sunshine Laws and Access to Public Records in NC

Mmmm....cake.  And government info.
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Are records really public?

Sunshine Center — Elon University

N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue issued a proclamation declaring the week of March 15 Sunshine Week across North Carolina. Sunshine Week celebrates transparency in government and calls attention to its importance in our democracy.

This past year since Sunshine Week 2008 has been a reminder that some need to be reminded of the word “public” in public records.

The record is clear. State law is utterly unambiguous:

“The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people.”

The American public takes its property quite seriously. To be denied what we rightfully own is cause for great consternation. Yet across the state, we are routinely denied our property by “public” officials who seem to be subscribing to an outlaw philosophy that, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

It’s not. The law is explicit: “The public official in charge of an office having public records shall be the custodian thereof.”

The “custodian thereof” — not the owner thereof.

For state officials to treat the public as a nuisance when it requests its own property is unconscionable.

Nevertheless, this is what happens continually from the high peaks of Western Carolina to the lowlands of the Carolina Coast.

What part of “public” do “public officials” not understand?

Public servants in all forms routinely deny records to their rightful owners, from sheriffs to animal shelter directors, from fire chiefs to city and county attorneys, and so on.

What would result if other custodians routinely denied us our property? If a customer shows up at a bank to withdraw some cash, and she is stonewalled or treated as a nuisance, she would take her money elsewhere.

The bank stands to lose.

But public officials in North Carolina know better: There is nothing to lose by denying citizens their records except the public trust, a clear conscience, and a sense of public service – which, sadly, matter too little to too many state officials.

It’s time for a change. If public officials can’t do the right thing for its own sake, the law needs to respond.

There was a prime opportunity in the past year to remedy the greatest obstacle to transparency in North Carolina government: providing a tangible incentive to public officials to honor the Public Records Law.

The Open Government Act was passed by the N.C. Senate in last year’s session and delivered to the House. But just like a rogue public official stonewalls a public records request, the House mercilessly killed the bill, a move orchestrated by House Speaker Joe Hackney.

The act would have strengthened the Public Records Law in two significant ways, perhaps the most notable of which was providing automatic recovery of attorneys fees for citizens who sue for wrongful denial of their public records property. State agencies and servants would have been provided the incentive they need to honor the law: their pocketbooks.

This would have been the second time in the last few years that the state legislature attempted to strengthen this portion of the law. Public officials and judges didn’t get the message the first time in 2005.

With few exceptions, judges in the state have not had the courage to make government pay when it breaks the law.

The act also would have provided a mediation mechanism to resolve public records disputes before they become lawsuits. It is odd, indeed, that current state law provides only for mediation of disputes over the cost of public records through the state’s PIO chief, but not mediation for wrongful denials.

Arguments against the slain act have been feeble, at best.

In July of last year, Hackney claimed there just wasn’t enough time in the last session to pass the act. Instead, he referred it to committee to carry out the act’s death sentence.

However in January, Hackney indicated he is interested in a bill that provides for some version of automatic recovery of attorneys fees.

“He just wants to make sure the fees are reasonable,” said Bill Holmes, a Hackney spokesman, as reported in The News & Observer. The paper also reported that Hackney wants to be sure judges retain discretion in awarding attorneys fees.

But that discretion is precisely the problem with the current law. The new law is intended to remedy the failure of judges to award fees when warranted.

And quite frankly, this isn’t Hackney’s call. The Senate made its wishes clear by passing the act last year, and the House should have the same opportunity – regardless what the speaker thinks.

The chief argument against automatic recovery of fees has pointed to the absence of a reciprocal provision in the new law to require that citizens pay attorneys fees when warranted.

But there are two fundamental problems with that position. First, citizens already pay the attorneys fees of state agencies through their tax dollars. Second, the law already provides for citizens to pay the attorneys fees of state agencies if a lawsuit is filed “in bad faith or was frivolous.”

It is time to revisit the Open Government Act – and not having time is no longer an excuse.

Further, it is time for public servants who are serving something other than the public to take note of the word “public” in public official — and in public records.

Dale Harrison is the assistant director of the Sunshine Center at Elon University and a professor of journalism in the School of Communications.

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