Politics

Prosecutors Are Extracting Data From More Than 100 Locked Phones Seized During Inauguration Day Arrests

Prosecutors revealed in a court filing on Wednesday that they were pulling data from more than 100 cell phones seized during arrests on Inauguration Day. All the phones were locked, but the government indicated they were still able to collect information from them.

Posted on

WASHINGTON — Prosecutors are extracting data from more than 100 locked cell phones seized during arrests in downtown Washington, DC, on President Trump's Inauguration Day, according to court papers prosecutors filed on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said they had search warrants to pull data from the phones, which were taken from individuals arrested on Inauguration Day, including some who were not indicted. All of the phones were locked, according to the government, "which requires more time-sensitive efforts to try to obtain the data." But the filing appeared to indicate that they were successful in accessing information on the phones.

There are 214 people facing a felony rioting charge in connection with demonstrations on Jan. 20 that turned violent and, according to prosecutors, involved more than $100,000 in property damage. A handful of defendants are also facing separate charges for destruction of property and assaulting police.

According to the filings on Wednesday, the government plans to produce the information it collects from the seized phones to the defendants by way of an electronic database that would be made available to defense counsel. The extracted data includes irrelevant personal information, prosecutors said, so they're seeking an order from the court that would prohibit defense lawyers from copying or sharing information unless it's relevant to defend their client.

A number of defendants filed requests after they were arrested asking the judge to hold a hearing on any requests by the government for search warrants for electronic devices or social media accounts. The judge overseeing all of these cases denied those requests, saying that if defendants believed the government carried out an illegal search, they could ask the court later to suppress information.

Some defendants have also been filing motions to dismiss the charges against them, arguing that the indictments aren't specific enough in tying individuals to particular acts of rioting. Other defendants are arguing that the Justice Department should be disqualified because the protests were against Trump, who is now the head of the executive branch. The government has not yet responded to these motions.

Defendants have been coming to court in groups over the past few weeks for arraignments. Prosecutors on Wednesday proposed formally dividing the defendants into at least four categories for future trials, based on the type of conduct they were accused of, the seriousness of the alleged offenses, and the available evidence that could apply to groups of people.

Christopher Mutimer, a defense lawyer representing one of the defendants, told BuzzFeed News by email on Wednesday that he would oppose efforts by the government to hold joint trials.

"These cases should be tried individually in a manner that protects each individual defendant's constitutional rights," Mutimer said. "Not in groupings that make the trials most convenient for the government. Grouping individuals for trial creates a danger of wrongful convictions based on guilt by association."

Arraignments are scheduled through early April, and then follow-up hearings are set starting in the middle of the month, when the judge is likely to begin addressing any evidence-related issues and motions.

Zoe Tillman is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Zoe Tillman at zoe.tillman@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.