Sheriff Says Tmobile Delayed Murder Investigation

The head of the Major Case Squad of St. Louis is calling out Tmobile for delaying a 20-person double-murder investigation by several days by demanding an unusual $50 fee for accessing victims’ phone records.

The police requested cellphone records from the victims they said were key in their case but the cellphone provider wouldn’t hand them over without paying a $50 fee. After several days of bickering, one of the police captains just whipped out his own personal credit card and paid for them.

In contrast, Sprint gave the team cellphone records without charging a fee. “They handled business with us the way business between police and business should be handled,” the aptly-named Sheriff Justus told the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Reached for comment, Tmobile told Consumerist, “We have a responsibility to uphold Federal privacy laws. As a result, we are very careful with how we manage and disclose private information of any U.S. citizen and our own customers. Working on this case with the Sherriff’s Department of St. Clair County, T-Mobile first responded immediately by providing 48 hours of historic records on the accounts requested. We did this to help the investigation as quickly as we could. However, T-Mobile and other wireless carriers are regulated by the Federal Government in terms of the privacy of our customers’ account information. When the Sherriff’s Department asked for additional information, we informed them that they needed to provide us legal documentation and we were provided with a valid warrant. T-Mobile did not process a $50 fee for this information. In all of our work with law enforcement agencies around the country, T-Mobile works as quickly as possible and as cooperatively as possible to help with investigations.”

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  1. blinky says:

    Anything we can use to discourage them from going after our records is fine with me.

    • iggy21 says:

      Can tell if you’re being facetious or a complete moron. Privacy is one thing, but when you break the law, the cops have the ability to obtain warrants to solve crimes. Oh, but that’s right, damn the man and damn the cops.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        A) When first requested, no warrant for information was provided. T-mobile is fully in its legal right to require a search warrant for records, just like any other business or individual.

        B) Obtaining these records for the police does cost them money, and they are within their right to charge a fee for obtaining records, just like if it were an individual or a request by a lawyer over a civil matter. Perhaps they should have provided the information and just billed them, but they are still allowed to charge the fee.

        I’m with blinky, I want my personal records kept personal unless forced by law. Not given away willy-nilly for just any reason.

        • MamaBug says:

          even when you’re dead/murdered?

        • ThinkerTDM says:

          Costs money? Are you fucking serious? It takes a monkey at a computer two seconds to type a customer number or name into the search field.

          • wrjohnston91283 says:

            I handle responding to subpoena’s for my company. Responding to a subpoena for records takes more time than many people think. It’s not just the one person who gathers the final product, but multiple people. Someone receives the subpoena (they’re normally simply addressed to “Company X” and the mail room needs to figure out who it goes to), who has to forward to the legal department, who then determines if it’s valid. Legal then forwards it to me, and I then log into our database, search for the records, print them out, and forward them to the person requesting them. I would imagine that if police were looking for cell phone records they would be emailed or faxed, but I’m dealing with enough documents that they are sent fedex, which means someone has to log into fedex.com, fill out a printing label and package the documents. In total, it could take over an hour of everyone’s combined time for a small request.

            • iggy21 says:

              Subpoenas and warrants are different. Furthermore, you cant charge money in exchange for the items under the warrant. That is blocking an investigation. What you can do is complete your service by gathering the items covered by the warrant and then bill the city or the Police Dept at a later time.

              Scenario: Pawn shop has a possible murder weapon. Police obtain a search warrant which allows them to seize the possible weapon. Pawn shop cannot expect payment for that weapon before giving it up. (The goes for any item/data/whatever that can aid an investigation).

              • Billy says:

                Yes, subpoenas and warrants are different things legally, but it’s clear that the same amount of work and cost are associated with either of them.

                I don’t think that wrjohnston91283 was saying that a company should be able to charge. He was just saying that the cost to a company is not negligible.

        • iggy21 says:

          Then you fall in to the complete moron category. I understand T-mobile wanting a warrant. That doesn’t bother me. It’s when T-mobile sees the warrant from the cops, THEN decides to charge them for the info.

          I think you may not fully understand what a warrant is. The cops don’t have to pay. If T-mobile wants to charge after-the-fact to recoup costs, that’s one thing, but blocking a warrant by charging a fee in order to carry it out, well, that borders on obstruction.

        • Smashville says:

          You do understand that dead people have no rights, correct?

          • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

            But the account holder might. teens and 20-somethings might not have their own account.

        • nbs2 says:

          And don’t forget, government agencies can, and often if the information goes against their interest will, charge a fee for providing FOIA information.

          Also, for others, just because this is a murder case doesn’t make every request a murder case. I’d rather the government have to do more than subpoena to get my records.

        • psanf says:

          It doesn’t cost a phone company anything to pull customer records. they’re all accessible to every employee working with customer accounts. all they have to do is package them and then send them to the sheriff’s e-mail. at most it might cost them $2 in labor to have someone verify that the department and warrant are valid by looking up a couple of phone numbers and then making a phone call or two. i used to work for a cell phone company’s 611 department and looked at customer activity records all the time.

    • spongebue says:

      I value my privacy. A lot. But if someone murders me, I don’t have much use for that anymore and would rather see that person brought to justice than the privacy of dead ol’ me kept.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        They were probably after the suspect’s records.

      • BobOki says:

        I would normally agree with you, but there is a lot to be told that can ruin/damage reputations, especially of those still living that need to be taken in consideration in things like this. I would like to think if I was murdered that my family could quickly make that call, if they do not exist then my work. If work does not exist, well, in that case I am torn between allowing it or forcing a warrant.
        Personal information can really damage more than just a dead guy, and it really is important that people remember that, and it is more important authorities always remember that. Catching a killer is no doubt very important, and as such I think that phone companies should be enthusiastic about helping where they can, they literally might provide the evidence to capture a killer, but we must never let the ends justify the means.

    • AnonymousCoward says:

      Especially if you’re already a murder victim, and the cops want to find out who did it.

    • Kishi says:

      You mean anything the company can do to profit off of the misfortune of their customers.

    • DanRydell says:

      What an idiotic attitude. You’re protected by the constitution, which is much more powerful than a $50 fee.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        The constitution guarantees no illegal searches and siezures. Illegal would mean without a warrant.

        • mythago says:

          Please re-read the Constitution.

          • jake.valentine says:

            Do you mean “re-read” it until I see things your way?!? The 4th Amendment protects you from unreasonable (keyword) “searches and seizures”. There are reasonable circumstances where a warrantless search is allowed.

            • KyleOrton says:

              Please look closely at the commenting structure on The Consumerist. Not until you see things my way; just until you see that Mythago wasn’t replying to you.

              By the way, I AM replying to you. Jake Valentine. You.

              • Moweropolis says:

                It’s awesome because he didn’t even bother to look at a time stamp, since myth’s post was technically before his.

            • SonicPhoenix says:

              Correct, and if the police forcibly obtained the information without a warrant that would be protected by the fourth amendment. If the police ask the telco and the telco says, “ok, here you go” than that’s fair game and doesn’t qualify for protection.

              So in most cases, you aren’t protected by shit when the police obtain information from the telcos because it’s usually given freely.

        • jake.valentine says:

          “Illegal would mean without a warrant.”

          Have you heard of a warrantless search? It can be completely legal under certain circumstances. However, I also am a proponent of limited government power. I don’t trust them…..

          • Happy13178 says:

            So your mother gets murdered, the police think cellphone records would help them find the murderer, and you don’t trust the police to use them? And a $50 fee makes them trustworthy?

          • Billy says:

            This is not one of those circumstances.

        • DanRydell says:

          Thanks professor. Like I said, the constitution is much more powerful than a $50 fee.

  2. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Demanding a fee? Not cool. Demanding a search warrant? I should damn well hope so.

    • Bernardo says:

      Agree!

      • jjmcubed says:

        I could be wrong, but I believe they are talking about the cell phone records of the people who are already deceased. If you get something without a warrant against the accused, it will be thrown out at least on appeal. While the deceased have no right to privacy.

        • mrstu says:

          Exactly… they either need a warrant, or the customer’s consent… and I think it’s assumed that the murder victim consents to having their records searched to help find their killer.

          • hereisaaron says:

            I imagine that I would consent if I was a murder victim too, but I would prefer that a warrant be required in all cases to prevent them from going after records in the case I was still alive.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      In the article:

      How do police normally get such records? Justus said police fill out a form requesting the information, and most of the companies then provide it to police. “They will get it to you as quick as they can,” without a court order, without a charge, Justus said.

      WOW. It’s bullshit T-Mobile asked for $50 in addition to a warrant, but it’s even more bullshit that all you don’t even need a warrant with other companies, and it’s just a form.

      BRB, requesting call records of anyone who has ever been mean to me.

  3. Commenter24 says:

    Given that it costs T-Mobile money to collect and produce the records, I don’t see how a fee is unreasonable. Just because they are the “police” doesn’t mean they should get things for free.

    • Rachacha says:

      Perhaps, but one would think that they might be able to invoice the police for services rendered rather than demanding payment upfront.

      • Abradax says:

        Have you run a credit check on our governments both local and federal lately? I’d demand payment upfront too.

    • Cyco says:

      That’s a great view. I’m sure that if a situation like this happens with one of your family members or even yourself, you will be perfectly understanding when a cell phone company delays in assisting the police with the recovery of you, the family member(s) or the people that commited a crime against your and/or your family.

    • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

      but then you wind up paying for it. (well, either way, you pay for it – either on your cell bill, or in your taxes.)

  4. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    “So we went and got the search warrant and gave it to them. A few days went by and we heard nothing. So on Saturday morning, one of our investigators called T-Mobile…”

    Must not have been THAT important if you waited a few days to call. But seriously, I don’t blame a company for requesting a search warrant. I mean, how do you verify that the people calling are really the police? And how many cases are lost because some over-zealous investigator and some worker who “wants to help” obtain evidence illegally, and someone goes free?

    • Kitamura says:

      Maybe they assumed that after delivering the warrant requesting the records, they were actually looking them up and would contact the police when they were ready? It’s not really unreasonable for them to give them a day or two to gather all the relevant information that the warrant specified.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I like how the officer talks about all the money spent for man hours wasted because they didn’t provide the records right away. But if they had obtained the warrant in the first place (like they are technically required to do) then they wouldn’t have wasted so much time.

      The fee thing? Debateable, but the article suggests it was paid immediately once they knew it was required.

  5. x0r says:

    I am in full support of T-Mobile on this, I hope other carriers would follow this example.

    • costanza007 says:

      for defying a warrant? or collecting the fee?

    • coren says:

      Refusing a valid search warrant?

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        They didn’t refuse the warrant. The police pay MANY times when serving a search warrant. If they break down your door, THEY pay for it. All a warrant says is that the police have the right to see the documents/information in question.

        • costanza007 says:

          well then, time for a summary judgment to get the $50 back…

        • coren says:

          THey don’t say “here’s 100 bucks” then SMASH there goes your door.

          • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

            No, but IIRC, they DO post a officer at your door until the locksmith comes.

            • Don't_rip_me_off_bro says:

              Not true at all. The police errantly busted down my door a year or so back. Once they realized they had the wrong house, they gave me the card of the city solicitor and the case number. The door was nailed shut. I repaired the door. Two months and many calls, letters, and emails later, my claim was denied. So I went to the media. Next day I had a check.

        • DD_838 says:

          You have no idea what your talking about.

        • Billy says:

          You’d probably have to sue for damages. Or at least threaten it.

    • DanRydell says:

      Did you miss the part where they had a warrant?

  6. savvy9999 says:

    I’m not so sure why they shouldn’t demand a fee. Other than in an emergency (WE NEED THIS RIGHT NOW WE’LL WORK OUT THE DETAILS LATER!!!), in a rather ordinary and routine investigation, why would a police department get a free ride on T-mobile’s data department?

    The place I work for does business with all sorts of local, state, and national gov’t agencies, schools, universities, police and fire departments, etc, and we sure as hell don’t give our time, data, and expertise away for free to them either.

    • AnonymousCoward says:

      It was a murder investigation. T-Mobile could have sent a bill, rather than demanding payment up front.

    • Billy says:

      Doing business with government agencies is a lot different than a warrant demanding that something be done.

      Has cost ever been a defense to complying with a warrant? If the company wants to argue that it’s too burdensome, they need to take it up with the judge who signed the warrant. They shouldn’t block the warrant by themselves.

  7. antisane says:

    I don’t get it… isn’t a search warrant basically a court order? A judge has to sign any warrants for them to be legal…

    How can they (legally) refuse to hand over the information if served with a warrant?

    • Difdi says:

      They can’t, legally. The proper response of the police should have been to get a bench warrant issued for obstruction of justice, once T-Mobile refused to obey the warrant.

      • sonneillon says:

        Except TMobile as a corporation is a citizen. How do you arrest a corporation?

        I suppose you could arrest the CEO but they may not have had a hand in the obstruction. Maybe the person on the phone that demanded a fee or their manager. It’s a nightmare in a situation like this. It was just easier to pay the 50 bucks and shame TMobile later.

  8. coren says:

    I completely get needing a warrant, and I understand not wanting to pay Tmobile a fee, but why does it take so long to just suck it up and pay them.

    • btrthnnothing says:

      The consumerist article is a bit misleading on this point, the original article said that after the police sent the appropriate documents, it took several days of T-Mobile not contacting them about releasing the phone records before the police station called to follow-up. It was then that T-Mobile told them that they would have to pay $50 for the call records. They paid the fee immediately once they found out

  9. Draygonia says:

    Yet another reason why Sprint is better than T-Mobile… or Verizon… or AT&T…

  10. Philippe23 says:

    Not identical, but for Time Warner to do an IP lookup for court cases:

    “Each lookup costs TWC $45.” [TWC = Time Warner Cable]

    Source : ArsTechnica “Time Warner Cable tries to put brakes on massive piracy case”: http://arst.ch/k5r

    $50 sound to be about the standard rate. After all, as many other people have pointed out, someone has to pay for someone to do these look ups, just like I’m betting this isn’t a Volunteer Police Dept from St. Louis….

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      That fee is probably there to prevent abuse from the copyright abusers: “OMG, Shitty Pop Album is being swapped by 49293 IP addresses, I want all their names and phone numbers!”

      That said, I think waiving the fee might be a good thing to do when someone is all murdered-like.

  11. legwork says:

    The alternate, short version:

    “I’m such a bad manager that a $50 fee will completely stump my team of 20. I’ve micro-managed and frozen them beneath so much policy that simple fees and warrant requests can delay murder investigations multiple days.”

    Sheriff J

    • coren says:

      Apparently part of the delay was them thinking the request was being processed while Tmobile didn’t inform them and sat on their hands doing nothing. Who micromanaged that fuckup?

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        Did you read the article? T-Mobile completed the work, and as soon as the police called(after a few days) and paid: “And they released the information,” Justus said.

        • coren says:

          I did. Tmobile didn’t inform them of any fee until the police called a few days later, when the police hadn’t heard from Tmobile. THe way the article is written leads me to believe that if the police hadn’t called then, they would have been waiting indefinitely. Either way, certainly not the 50 dollar fee confusing them.

          • legwork says:

            I can see giving Tmo a few hours to reply. Depending on urgency & all, and assuming nothing significant is expected to come of it. But waiting days? If it was important this screams of poor management. It’s either due to “employee lockdown” or a complete lack of initiative, which in a well-run system is obvious and the team compensates.

            If it wasn’t important enough to stay on top of, it isn’t important enough to complain about.

            I hate the usual CSR complacency as much as anyone but blaming tmo CSRs for his team’s own laziness tells us Justus hasn’t lead effectively.

  12. Seasel says:

    Guys, they’re trying to stop a murderer. Use you heads, they’re not invading your privacy, they’re trying to prevent someone from killing more people. Not to mention, I for one don’t want to have to increase taxes so the police can pay phone companies for phone records, they’re a government institution, anything they pay for, we pay for.

  13. Alex says:

    Wait… so Sprint gave the officers the information they requested without a search warrant, but T-Mobile held out and charged them $50?

    How am I supposed to feel bad for these cops when they’re breaking the law and calling it efficient?

    • bshockme says:

      Whoa there sport… Sprint isn’t breaking the law. The records belong to Sprint. It is common practice within the industry to share those records with law-enforcement in certain situations without a warrant. Those situation include: The owner of the phone has been abducted, the owner of the phone is missing with suspected foul play, the owner of the phone is deceased with an ongoing investigation. There is no law that states the utility must be presented with a warrant prior to releasing the records.

      A company is well within their rights to request a warrant, and not release records until one is presented. I know of no law in Missouri that would allow a company to fail to comply with a warrant until payment is tendered for that evidence. If that happened in the jurisdiction I work for, someone would likely end up in jail for obstruction/contempt of court.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        In the jurisdiction you work for, if a warrant is served and a door is broken down, who pays for it? It’s usually the police. It’s the price they pay for serving the warrant to get the information they may need.

        • bshockme says:

          Damage to property is not germane to the discussion. The Sheriff’s dept doesn’t issue reimbursement for the door prior to making entry. If T-Mobile want’s to bill the agency, let them bill the agency. That isn’t a valid excuse for holding information hostage in defiance of a court order.

          • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

            They didn’t. When the dept finally got around to calling, they provided the $50, and were given the info. It seems the dept didn’t know the proper procedure.

            And it is germane, because they break down the door with the knowledge that they will be paying for it and posting an officer there until a locksmith shows up. The difference? This dept didn’t know the procedure.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I believe Sprint is considered a party privy to personal information and is required to covet that information responsibly. Giving it out without a warrant could be considered illegal, even if to law enforcement. And in fact there is a law stating a cellphone provider must be given a warrant before releasing this information. But, case law has established the allowable practice of giving law enforcement phone records for the reasons you described. But it’s “allowable” and T-mobile is still in its right to require a warrant.

    • JonBoy470 says:

      Not illegal to ask for the information, or even to receive it if it is volunteered in response to such a request. It’s just illegal to require the information without a warrant.

    • mythago says:

      You could try feeling bad for the murder victim.

  14. FnordX says:

    I don’t see how this is a big deal for T-Mobile. I mean, they already have all of this information broken down by phone number. I can log into T-Mobile at any time and see the numbers I’ve called. It’s not like they had to do any work to produce this, just have an admin log into the account and print off/copy off the information.

  15. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Last time I went to the police station for a copy of an accident report, I was charged for it, and couldn’t get it until I paid.

    GitEmSteveDave Says Sheriff Delayed Insurance Investigation

  16. Shadowman615 says:

    This doesn’t sound all that different than movie-detectives slipping a $20 to a homeless guy to help him remember what he saw last night.

  17. greggen says:

    I dont understand how tmobile can justify demanding 50 dollars toprovide this information.
    This is a simple search and printout of records they have in their system.
    It costs them $50 to have an employee do this?

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      They probably have to run the warrant by their in house counsel to make sure it is valid. Lawyers cost money, as does the person who pulls up the records in accordance with the warrant.

      • mythago says:

        In-house counsel is salaried. It doesn’t cost them any money.

        • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

          Lawyers who work for free?! Where do you find these creatures?

          • DangerMouth says:

            *In-house* counsel is already paid deal with legal issues. This is a legal issue. It’s just another aspect of his or her job. You wouldn’t pay your secretary her pro-rated $18 an hour for her time in typing a letter to person A vs answering a phone call from person B, on top of what you already pay her, since these are just various aspects of the same job.

            • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

              A police officer gets paid, but I have to pay to get a copy of a police report. Why?

        • Abradax says:

          In what world does Salary not cost money?

  18. Thassodar says:

    Diabeetus?

  19. deadbird says:

    I understand needing a search warrant. But shouldn’t the police/sheriffs have some sort of procedure clearly written to obtain phone records? Shouldn’t they also get these records fast and without a fee? I know I would gladly give up my privacy in the event that a dangerous criminal was put away! What if you were abducted! I would want my records handed over at once if it would help save my life! But then again I have nothing to hide from law enforcement.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      There is a precedent for imminent threats. But with the people already being deceased, there was no immanent harm.

    • Scorps1 says:

      There are procedures in place to obtain these records. Convince a judge that access is necessary. These checks and balances are necessary to protect us from abuses of police powers (I do support law enforcement and feel these abuses are rare). I am sure there are processes in place to obtain approvals quickly when time is of the essence however there was no such issue in this case and the holdup was not the fault of the search warrant but the lack of follow-up to the execution of the warrant by the Sheriff’s office.

  20. tasselhoff76 says:

    I love how a warrant can now be exchanged for $50.

  21. packcamera says:

    Sheriff Justus? His first name wouldn’t be Buford T. would it? Does the double-murder suspect go by the nickname “The Bandit?”

  22. Rachacha says:

    “…the aptly-named Sheriff Justus…”

    Please tell me that his first name is Buford and his middle initial is “T”

    If, it is, I did not know that they were making a new “Smokey and the Bandit” movie.

    • Rachacha says:

      I guess I should have scrolled to the second page of comments.

      -1 internets for me :-(

      Sorry packcamera

  23. DD_838 says:

    If it were that important the cops should have, would have & could have just paid it on the spot.

    There’s more going on here that meets the eye.

    And if there’s not, it just goes to show you that even a murder will not interfere with their budget (i.e. salaries, details etc.).

  24. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Sounds like they didn’t mind not upholing those privacy laws once the money was forked over. Odd how that works.

  25. Scorps1 says:

    Personally I feel that a warrant should be necessary before the information is released and the cell phone carrier’s privacy policy should define how and when records are released. By the same token the carrier should have a defined and published fee structure for costs involved in releasing those records. Copying charges are routinely assessed by governmental entities and if the Sheriff’s office requires records It should have a protocol in place for paying REASONABLE fees.

  26. kaltkalt says:

    The police wasted several days of a murder investigation (the first 48 hours is the most important) because they were too cheap to pay $50?

    NO this is just a case of the police Knowing (with the capital K) that they are too important to have to be treated like normal people, and since they’re the police they are exempt from all laws, and all things normal people have to deal with. Suck it up, coppers.

  27. enomosiki says:

    Here’s a tip for the cops; when T-Mobile CEOs or any other high-ranking officials get into accidents or victimized in crimes in the future, just tell them to go fuck themselves.

  28. Crazytree says:

    Sounds like T-Mobile is doing a better job of protecting your information from the government than AT&T.

  29. peebozi says:

    this got the police’s panties in a bunch, huh.

    guess t-mobil wasn’t going to “RESPECT THEIR AUTHORITHAI!!!”…and cops really hate being questioned on anything.

  30. Ivan says:

    Search warrant??? I have dealt with law enforcement (local and federal agencies) requests for evidence and they are not search warrants, they are subpoena’s.

  31. P_Smith says:

    Telephone companies whored out everyone’s privacy in secret under the Treason Act (the mislabelled “patriot act”) without a fight, and now one of the whore expects people believe they are concerned about privacy?

    Give me a fucking break. Too bad the sheriff didn’t just walk into the Tmobile office and start arresting people for obstruction. Then we’d see how quickly they work.