A woman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, watched State Police place a tracking device on her vehicle last weekend and contacted her local NAACP president, who was frankly unimpressed by the agency’s spycraft.
Tiara Beverly had been arrested in April on serious drug charges, according to WBRZ. Then last week, this happened to Beverly:
On Wednesday, she said five law enforcement officers who identified themselves as state troopers showed up at her door asking about a person she knew. That person wasn’t there, but she said she filed an internal affairs complaint against the troopers over the way they handled her that evening.
Two days later, she said she saw some men in her gated apartment complex hovering around her car. One day later, she said she noticed the tracking device.
“I instantly panicked,” Beverly said. “I didn’t know if it was a bomb, but then I did find out it was a tracker.”
Not exactly trusting the police at this point, Beverly turned to the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP. Eugene Collins, president of the Baton Rouge NAACP, told reporters the police refused to answer any questions about why they had fixed the tracking device to Beverly’s car, but demanded the device be returned to them on Monday. The NAACP chapter president was not impressed by the police.
“It’s bush league,” Collins told WBRZ. “The fact that a young woman can see you doing something like this means you’re not very good at it.”
WBRZ found the device mounted to a pole outside across the street from McKinley Middle School. You’d think the cops would have found it first if it was such an effective tracking tool. Louisiana State Police issued this statement to the news station:
Upon speaking with our detectives, this is part of an ongoing investigation involving Ms. Beverly and a suspect with federal warrants. As part of the investigative process, a warrant was obtained for the surveillance equipment. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, further information will be available regarding charges and investigative documents.
Five officers showing up at your house simply to ask about someone you know seems pretty excessive, and placing such a device on someone’s car seems to add even more intimidation to the situation. Such devices are illegal for civilians to use in Louisiana, but totally legal for an “investigative or law enforcement officer, judicial officer, probation or parole officer, or employee of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections...” according to Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:222.3.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that police cannot use such devices without a warrant. But is removing such a device considered theft? In a similar case involving a man named Derek Heuring in Indiana, the state supreme court ruled it was not. Heuring was suspected of dealing meth, and police used a tracking device on his vehicle. After six days, the device stopped transmitting. The police got a warrant, based on the assumption that Heuring stole the device that he didn’t know what on his vehicle or where it came from. The Indiana Supreme Court sided with Heuring, according to ArsTechnica:
The police had no more than a hunch that Heuring had removed the device, the court said, and that wasn’t enough to get a search warrant.
Even if the police could have proved that Heuring had removed the device, that wouldn’t prove he stole it, the high court said. It’s hard to “steal” something if you have no idea to whom it belongs. Classifying his action as theft would lead to absurd results, the court noted.
“To find a fair probability of unauthorized control here, we would need to conclude the Hoosiers don’t have the authority to remove unknown, unmarked objects from their personal vehicles,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote for a unanimous court.