Facebook, ‘friends’ fair game of search in case of GJ man
The seizure of a Facebook account was justified and reasonable, given the facts known early on in the investigation of a suspect who allegedly posted threats against Grand Junction Police Department officers, a Denver-based federal judge said in a ruling.
U.S. District Judge William Martinez issued his written ruling Wednesday.
An attorney representing Kenneth Royal Wheeler, of Grand Junction, had sought to throw out all information seized by law enforcement from Wheeler’s Facebook account, arguing a search warrant obtained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Gerard Kavanagh was “overbroad.” Wheeler is charged with making interstate threatening communications.
The warrant allowed a search of all contact and personal identifying information associated with the Facebook account, all activity logs, photos uploaded to the account, records of communications sent and received, all “check-ins” and uses of the “like” feature, and all accounts listed as “friends” and those the account was a “fan” of.
“It is hard to imagine that any of our country’s founding fathers would have approved the notion that a single writing by an individual that a government agent deemed threatening would justify a search of a place where he stored all his writings, correspondence and research and justify the government reading and copying every single writing it found there,” Denver attorney Abraham Hutt wrote in a motion to suppress evidence.
“The existence of the quoted posts from (Wheeler’s) Facebook page do not, without a particular statement of probable cause, justify a search of every association he has ever made through a worldwide computer network designed to foster association among individuals and groups.”
Martinez, however, said the defense filing was essentially a bid to “Monday-morning quarterback” law enforcement in the case.
The Facebook post from March 12, 2012, started with, “STARDRAGON celestial override contingency ... ” The posting named three Grand Junction officers.
“... kill them all. Hang em upside down set their face on fire and saw them in half,” Wheeler wrote in the post.
Wheeler also urged anyone who saw the post to “kill everyone” at a local daycare facility, “if my dui charges are not dropped,” according to court filings.
Martinez’s ruling said it was reasonable for an officer to believe early on in the investigation Wheeler may have been conspiring with others.
For that reason, Wheeler’s Facebook “friends” and “like” information was fair game, the judge said.