Crime & Courts

Feds used cellphone tracker to arrest gang members in killings

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have used a cellphone tracking device known as a StingRay since 2006. The device works like a cellphone tower to collect data from nearby phones.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have used a cellphone tracking device known as a StingRay since 2006. The device works like a cellphone tower to collect data from nearby phones.

FBI agents used a controversial cellphone tracking device to locate and arrest gang members accused of killing a Lake Wylie couple last year, according to a search warrant.

The device was used to identify phones carried by suspected gang members Daquan Everett and Nehemijel Houston.

Everett and Houston face racketeering conspiracy charges related to the killings of Doug and Debbie London in October 2014. Authorities have said the men were part of a conspiracy to kill the Londons to stop them from testifying about a robbery committed by other members of the United Blood Nation gang.

If convicted, Everett and Houston could get life in federal prison. Ten other members of the United Blood Nation’s Charlotte offshoot, the Valentine Bloods, face charges ranging from murder to racketeering to conspiracy.

In seeking the warrant, the FBI said it planned to begin arresting members of the Bloods on April 22, and needed the cell phone tracker to make quick arrests. “The FBI will seek to arrest all subjects simultaneously because if some of the co-conspirators learn about the arrests of the others, they likely will attempt to evade arrest,” the search warrant reads. It said Everett and Houston presented “a flight risk and a danger to the community.”

The cellphone tracker mimics a cellphone tower. When an individual phone connects, officers can identify and locate it. The warrant asked the judge to give investigators a 30-day window to perform the arrests. It said the investigators would purge unrelated data after the arrests were made to protect the privacy rights of innocent third parties.

It’s unclear from the search warrant when authorities used the device and whether third-party data was ultimately purged.

An Observer investigation last year showed that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police use a StingRay cellphone tracking device that collects information from cellphones and wireless devices to locate crime suspects but that also gathers data from innocent people.

The portable equipment allows officers investigating serious crimes to learn the serial numbers, location and other information about nearby phones and laptop computers and tablets that connect to a cellular network.

The surveillance equipment has been used by the military and federal agencies since the 1990s to hunt down terrorists.

But interviews and documents collected from the Observer’s Freedom of Information Act requests show CMPD uses the technology on a weekly basis to track suspects in violent felonies, kidnappings and missing persons cases.

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