We’ve talked about the secretive Stingray devices several times on crimcourts, and I’ve even talked about them on local TV. Stingrays are devices that mimic cell phone towers and can allow law enforcement to secretly collect cell phone data. The problem is, without a warrant, they can be used to unconstitutionally invade people’s privacy and to collect overbroad types of data from innocent citizens. It’s a clear violation of the constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches.
On the pair of shows of the fictional New York police precinct “Brooklyn 99” which aired last night, the officers of the 99th precinct discover the new NYPD police commissioner has started using a Stingray to illegally collect data. The good guys set up a sting operation to bust the commissioner and end the illegal data collection program- a Stingray-sting! Hijinks ensue, but I won’t spoil the outcome for those who haven’t seen it. Nonetheless, it’s impressive that a comedy show used a hot button topic as the basis for an episode.
Valentino Dixon was serving a 39-years-to-life sentence for a 1991 murder he did not commit, in Buffalo, N.Y. It wasn’t until Golf Digest did a profile of him, that his case caught the interest of some people to address the mistakes that led to him being convicted of a crime he did not commit… including an admission from the man who actually shot the victim. The prosecutor even charged two men who corroborated the accusation of the actual story with perjury. The perjury charges prevented those men from testify to the truth in Dixon’s trial. The actual shooter says he was pressured to change his story. While Dixon was facing charges, the other man was out of custody, and has since been incarcerated in the same prison for shooting a different person in the face.
The case came to light when Dixon was profiled in Golf Digest about the golf course drawings he did in prison, as part of a regular column they did called “Golf Saved My Life.” Max Adler, the columnist, was so interested in Dixon’s story, he initiated the investigation that eventually led to Dixon’s acquittal, which still took another six years. Dixon walked out of prison this week a free man. I’d like to take him out for a golf lesson.
It’s a really cool story, and a stark reminder of the importance of journalism in our country. It’s sad it took 27 years, in spite of the witnesses for Dixon. Golf Channel and NBC also picked up the story and provided important momentum to right this wrong:
Prosecutors filed a motion this week for Pretrial Detention: that’s a request to keep the man they say was the Zombicon shooter behind bars until his trial date. I spoke to NBC-2 yesterday, that motion summarizes many of the facts the State says make up their case against Jose Bonilla:
- 5 tips to Crimestoppers identified him
- He gave multiple statements to investigators denying involvement in the shooting
- However, one of his alleged gangster buddies intimated that he may have been responsible
- A jailhouse informant in Collier County wore a wire and Bonilla allegedly made admissions about his involvement
You can read the full text of the motion, here: img03022018_0001
Part of the Redacted Motion
The motion has been redacted for release, so we can’t see what the state says are the specific statements that he gave to investigators, or that may be on the recording with the informant. However, at the end of the motion, the prosecutors summarize their argument, and indicate that he admitted that “he is responsible for the shootings at the Zombicon event” and that he repeated some admissions afterward to investigators. I’m going to add a Stand Your Ground tag to this, as it also appears he may have claimed his actions were justified due to someone else pulling a gun, but we don’t know specifics yet.
More details will come out when the discovery becomes public record, but not for a few weeks. Monday, the court will hold a hearing on the Pretrial Detention motion, where he will likely continue to be held with no bond. You can watch the NBC-2 video here.
Documents released today reveal why it took more than two years to bring charges against Jose Bonilla, even though he was identified as a suspect just a few weeks after the Zombicon shooting in October 2015. There were several calls to Crimestoppers, with anonymous tipsters indicating that Bonilla was the shooter and bragging about it. However, law enforcement did not want to move at that time, because they didn’t have sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial. The anonymous tips are hearsay, and they need someone to testify in order for that evidence to be admissible in court.
The stayed on the case, tracking Bonilla down, conducting several interviews, and talking to many of his friends and family. Ultimately, the break in the case came at the end of 2017, while Bonilla was in jail, Detectives indicate an informant in the jail came forward with information about Bonilla’s comments. The prosecutors took their time, and instead of rushing to make an arrest, they had the informant wear a wire to record his conversations with Bonilla. The details have been redacted from the public records, but the Detectives indicate that he admitted to involvement. More details may follow at the detention motion on Monday. Bonilla is innocent until proven guilty, but he is unlikely to get a bond at the pretrial detention hearing tomorrow.
I spoke to NBC-2 again about the case, and may be on the evening news tonight.
A Fort Myers jury has just found Placido Moreno-Torres guilty as charged of two counts of 2nd Degree Murder, and an additional count of attempted murder, according to NBC-2. Here’s our earlier story. NBC-2 has been in the courtroom, and will surely have details, soon.
He faces 25 to Life in Prison.
UPDATE: Sentencing set for February.
UPDATE: More from WINK.
Marian E. Williams
I spoke with NBC-2 this afternoon about the tragic Arson case in Arcadia where three little boys were killed. I’m not handling the case, but the news wanted to do a little color on Habitual Offenders and what her prior record means. Long story short- Marian Williams is facing a mandatory life sentence due to the First Degree Murder charges, and the State could potentially seek the death penalty. The DOC web page indicates she has already been to prison 7 different times, the last one for Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon. She could qualify as a Habitual Offender, and is unlikely to ever be released from custody.
Watch for me on NBC-2 during the 6 o’clock hour and see if my clip makes the air!
NBC-2 posted the story online that included my interview about the use of cell-phone tower imitators, that go by the brand name of Stingrays, and how they are being used to collect people’s data. There are still a lot of questions about the use of these devices, in part because the government is being so secretive about it. In many cases, their use can be legal, but they should definitely implement oversight, and get oversight from the courts by seeking warrants when they are being used.
For more in the issue, USA Today has been following the issue, and has a section devoted to it, here: http://www.usatoday.com/topic/f764896f-76b5-4789-a58e-e333b9b5bcfc/cellphone-surveillance/
And here is the NBC-2 story from last night: http://www.nbc-2.com/story/34124137/cell-phone-interceptors-used-by-govt-agency-to-gather-information
Attorney Spencer Cordell
This week the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a bipartisan report calling for standards on how cell-phone tower simulators, known as Stingrays, are used by government agencies. We don’t know how extensively they are being used, or even how much data they are able to collect: not just from criminals, but from average citizens whose phones get caught up. We do know there have been abuses in the past.
NBC-2 is doing a story tonight, and I may show up with some comments. The Stingray, and the secrecy around the agencies’ use of the technology is troubling. There are legal means to use technology, the most straightforward is just to get a warrant. We encourage standards and oversight, especially in Florida, which leads the country in Stingray use.
Tune in to NBC-2 tonight at 6 p.m.
An NBC-2 Investigative report yesterday examined the unsolved homicides, and discussed cases that have suspects, but that the State does not think there is enough evidence to pursue charges. It sounds like there is some finger pointing between FMPD and other members of the community and the State Attorney’s Office as to who is to blame here. I think the story doesn’t even get into the biggest issues.
The biggest issues are not the law enforcement disputes. Rather, it is:
- There are way to many unsolved murders in Fort Myers. NBC found 253 homicide investigations since 2010 (That’s a lot!) and found only 146 charges have been filed for those crimes. That is a lot of victims and their families who have not seen justice.
- The far-and-away-number 1-biggest problem, is witness cooperation… or lack thereof. Mr. Russell does talk about the issue, and stresses that it is important to continue to work to support victims.
We definitely need more murderers off the streets, but it’s not just an issue of the State not wanting to take chances… Mr. Russell points to the Zhi Huang case, where an arrest was made without SAO input, and a grand jury failed to indict the evidence was so lacking. And the greater problem with doing that is that if evidence comes up later implicating the person who was arrested, it may be too little too late due to double jeopardy. Fortunately, the State was later confident to charge Eugene Johnson in that recent case that initially suffered from a lack of evidence. It’s not right to point the finger at the State on cases where evidence is lacking, though more cooperation and communication may help solve the cases, and it could help prevent the aforementioned finger pointing.
Andrew Faust Jr.
The case that best encapsulates the greatest problem fighting violent crime in Fort Myers was the case of Andrew Faust Jr. Andrew was a five-year-old little boy who was shot in his home; an innocent killed by the wayward bullet of a drive-by shooting. After weeks without charges, a witness finally came forward and two men were charged in the case. However, the witness became uncooperative, and ultimately the charges had to be dropped. Since they were previously charged and speedy trial has run, they can never be charged again.
Here’s the thing about that case… the State did not handle as well as possible. While Mr. Russell is right when he tells NBC that we need to work with, support, and protect victims, his office tried to arrest the essential witness, the only person who could implicate the Defendants (after erroneously serving her sister with a subpoena). The attitude toward the witness likely contributed to her later uncooperativeness. It’s up to law enforcement at all levels, from the State Attorney to the street-level cop, to build up trust in the community, and to get the community to work together. Chief Diggs has already spoken about that need, and started outreach efforts to start building that trust. He said he didn’t know how bad it was before he got here and got to work, but it’s good to see him digging in. Hopefully he and the State Attorney, and the Sheriff, and all of the relevant agencies can work together to improve the problems in Fort Myers.
We’re all in it together! Community outreach like the efforts of Chief Diggs is the first step to reducing crime in Fort Myers, and we should all support those efforts.
Posted in Criminal Law, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Police
Tagged alberta harris, andrew faust, derrick diggs, eugene johnson, fort myers, murder, nbc, steve russell, zhi huang
Atty Spencer Cordell on NBC-2 [Who Dey]
The link is up
from last night’s NBC-2 follow-up story regarding use of surveillance cameras. The law is a little unclear, but there’s no doubt the best practice is for law enforcement to get a warrant when they are going to use the cameras: even the guy from the camera company recommends it. And everybody, prosecutors and defense attorneys, agree that when video surveillance is used, it needs to be disclosed when a case goes forward. My friend Rene Suarez, who is quoted at the beginning of the story, makes a great point: if the use of video cameras is not disclosed, it shuts the judicial system out of the analysis regarding the legality of the tactics. That’s eliminating judicial oversight. If nothing is being done inappropriately, the investigators should have nothing to hide.
Here’s a link to the story, I will try to embed it, below.
NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida
And here’s a link to our story yesterday.
Posted in 4th Amendment - Search & Seizure, 6th Amendment - Fair Trial, Criminal Law, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL
Tagged brady, david hodges, discovery, nbc, rene suarez, search and seizure, spencer Cordell, surveillance, video