Michigan Police Use Device to Download Cellphone Data; ACLU Objects

Cellbrite(LANSING, Mich.) -- A high-tech gadget that can quickly download information from a cellphone is at the center of a controversy that's pitting civil liberties advocates against state police in Michigan.

Since 2008, the ACLU of Michigan has been petitioning the Michigan State Police to turn over information about their use of so-called "data extraction devices" (or DEDs). Manufactured by Cellebrite, a mobile forensics and data services company headquartered in Israel, the devices can connect to cellphones and, even bypassing passwords, retrieve phone numbers, text messages, call history, photos and video.

The issue came to a head this week, after the ACLU published a letter it sent to the state police, demanding transparency and saying misuse of the device could be a Fourth Amendment violation. Michigan State Police issued a statement Wednesday, claiming that "it only uses the DEDs if a search warrant is obtained or if the person possessing the mobile device gives consent."

But civil liberties advocates say that law enforcement's response is insufficient.

"They don't say anything about their past behavior. It's a carefully crafted statement," said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

On a "tip" that police had used a DED unlawfully, Moss said the ACLU filed its first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2008 to learn the policies and practices surrounding the extraction device, but the police did not offer answers. Instead, they told the ACLU it would need to pay more than $544,000 to retrieve the records and reports it had asked for. Over the past few years, Moss said the ACLU has tried to work with the police to narrow the request and lower the cost, but with little success.

"We have credible information that they were being used during routine stops without a warrant," she said. "And their response that information would cost half a million dollars suggests that there was some widespread use."

But Michigan State Police spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the devices have never been used to take personal cellphone information from citizens during routine stops.

Since the state got roughly six DEDs in 2006, Brown said, they have been used by specialty teams in high-level cases that require digital forensics methods -- for example, a child pornography case in which officers would need data from a suspect's computer and cellphone.

When asked why the cost of meeting the ACLU's FOIA requests were in six digits, Brown said that was what it would cost to have several employees, working full-time, assemble documents from a five-year period. She also said that in the five years that the state has owned the extraction devices, it has not received any citizen complaints or been named in any lawsuits.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Colorado Boy, 8, Sues over Drunk-Driving Crash that Killed His Mom

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock (DENVER) -- An eight-year-old boy in Colorado is suing an insurance company over the drunk driver who killed his mother in a gruesome crash.

A jury was deliberating Thursday in the civil suit in Douglas County Court in which the boy, Damon Marquand, is the lead plaintiff. The suit seeking an undisclosed level of damages stems from a crash in August 2009 during which Dominick Wilmer, then 26, was speeding at 110 mph at 2 a.m. when he lost control of the car.

Wilmer survived with minor injuries, but Damon's mother, Grace Cruthers, 29, and Jonathan Richardson, 26, were both passengers and were killed. Wilmer was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 13 years in prison, according to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

"I just want Damon to get what he deserves," Dave Cruthers, Damon's grandfather, who has custody of the child, told KMGH News in Denver, an ABC affiliate. "I don't know how you put a price on anything like this. I just want him taken care of in his later years."

Wilmer has expressed his remorse on a MySpace page. A friend writes there: "Dom is currently serving time for a very tragic accident that took the lives of two wonderful people, he is really trying to turn his life around. He says to tell all God bless, and please be smart and don't make any of the stupid decisions he did, and get yourself where he is."

A spokesman for American Family Insurance, Steve Witmer, said the company tried to settle the case and avoid a jury trial. "There was an offer made, and an offer was rejected," he said, but would not disclose amounts. Witmer said Wilmer was house-sitting for the insured person, Joshua Hill.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Texas Wildfires: Cooler Weather Helps Firefighters Battling Blaze

Hemera Technologies/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- Firefighters battling Texas wildfires are getting a reprieve with light rain and colder weather moving into the region.

Overnight rain fell in the area surrounding Possum King Lake where 160 homes and 150,000 acres have burned. The Possum King Complex where the fires continue to rage is 70 miles from Fort Worth.

More than 340 people, including volunteer firefighters, federal agencies and the Texas Army National Guard, are working to put out the flames.

One community, called Hell's Gate, is charred and smoldering.

Firefighters have been battling the massive Possum Kingdom fire since last Friday. Chief Ronnie Ranft leads the Possum Kingdom Fire Department, a group of 25 volunteer firefighters. He said he and his crew are "dead tired." Most haven't slept more than four hours a night in a week.

One firefighter died Wednesday from injuries sustained earlier this month while battling a blaze in the Texas Panhandle. He was the second firefighter to die battling the wildfires.

On Tuesday, authorities began enforcing evacuation orders in Palo Pinto, 50 miles west of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area.

Since January, 1.4 million acres in Texas have burned. That's equivalent to the size of Rhode Island.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pipe Bomb Found in Colorado Mall; FBI Seeks Person of Interest

FBI - Denver(LITTLETON, Colo.) -- Authorities are searching for a person of interest in connection with the discovery of a pipe bomb and propane tanks after a fire at a Littleton, Colorado mall broke out on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

The suspicious devices were found Wednesday afternoon at the Southwest Plaza Mall after firefighters responded to a small blaze in a hallway near the mall's food court.

An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 people were evacuated from the mall around noon.  No injuries were reported, but officials said the fire caused some minor damage.

The incident comes on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, where two of the school's students opened fire and killed 12 students and one teacher on April 20, 1999.  The two teens, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, committed suicide after the massacre.  They had also left pipe bombs in the school but the majority of them did not explode.

It's unclear whether Wednesday's incident is connected to the shooting anniversary but the mall is located near the high school.

Authorities said that if those devices had exploded, the damage and potential loss of life could have been catastrophic.

Late Wednesday night, FBI and law enforcement officials released a photo of a person of interest who was spotted on mall security cameras.

The person of interest is described as a white male with a grey hair with a silver mustache.  He was last wearing a dark cap, striped shirt, blue jeans and dark shoes.

In the surveillance photos, the man is seen holding a white plastic shopping bag.

"Surveillance tape gave a shot of an individual walking in with a bag, coming in a corridor that the public would not normally use.  And this individual possibly witnessed someone maybe coming in or out that area at the same time or he could possibly be involved," said FBI Spokesman Dave Joly.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Police: Florida Teens Lured Boy to Murder, Burned His Body

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Thinkstock(SUMMERFIELD, Fla.) -- A group of older teens and an ex-girlfriend lured a 15-year-old boy to a Florida house, where they carried out a plan by beating him, shooting him dead and burning his body, police said.

The fatal attack on Seath Jackson occurred Sunday at a house in Summerfield, Florida, police believe.  Now, four suspects, 18 or younger, and a 20-year-old are being charged with first-degree murder, and a 37-year-old man is being charged with accessory to murder.

"It's an unimaginable act -- the idea that six people would come together and carry out to kill a 15-year-old," Marion County police officer Judge Cochran said.  "That's a plot that you just don't expect to see in your next day's newspaper.  It's just not something expected in the community."

According to Marion County Police, Jackson's mother reported him missing and as a possible runaway on Monday.

But on Tuesday, Tracy Wright, the mother of Jackson's ex-girlfriend, Amber Wright, contacted police and told them her son, Kyle Hooper, 16, personally witnessed Jackson's murder.

During questioning, police said, Hooper claimed that the people inside the home were involved in the planning and luring of Jackson into the home where the murder took place.

Hooper allegedly told police that on Sunday, he, Amber Wright, Michael Bargo, 18, Charlie Ely, 18, and Justin Soto, 20, were at Ely's residence when Bargo started to speak of his hatred for Jackson.  The conversation then turned into a plan to lure Jackson into the residence so that Bargo could kill him with the assistance of the other people.

According to police reports, Ely and Wright planned to leave the residence and meet with Jackson to lure him to the home.  When Jackson arrived, Soto and Hooper hit him in the head with wooden objects, the report alleged, and Michael Bargo then shot Jackson several times.

Police believe the group burned Jackson's body outside the home in a fire that already had been started as a part of the plan.  A sixth person, James Havens, 37, admitted to helping dispose of Jackson's body, police said.  Havens is Hooper and Wright's stepfather, according to published reports.

According to police reports, all six suspects have admitted involvement in the killing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


First Lady, Vice President Getting Their Own Air Traffic Supervisor

The White House/Lawrence Jackson(WASHINGTON) -- It didn't take long for new rules to take effect after first lady Michelle Obama's plane was involved in what some deemed a close call with a military cargo jet on Monday.

The White House Boeing 737 carrying Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, had to abort a landing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland when it came within three miles of the huge C-17 that was touching down ahead of it.

As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration said that air traffic controllers will no longer handle flights when Mrs. Obama or the vice president are aboard.  That task now falls to an air traffic supervisor.

The rule applies to takeoffs and landings at Andrews as well as the regional air traffic facility in Warrenton, Virginia, where a controller mistakenly allowed Mrs. Obama's plane and the cargo jet to breach the five-mile mandated distance between aircraft.

All flights with President Obama on board are already handled by an air traffic supervisor.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Says Work Remains on BP Oil Spill; BP Sues Rig Owner

U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Everyone recalls the environmental disaster that resulted when an oil drilling platform exploded 40 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010.

What many have forgotten is that 11 workers died in the blast.

President Obama used the first anniversary of the largest accidental oil spill in the history of the petroleum history to remember the men who died on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and the resulting damaged well that leaked an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama said, "That catastrophic event deeply affected the lives of millions of Americans, from local fishermen to restaurant and hotel owners and small businesses throughout the region."

While close to 50,000 people were involved in the effort to contain the spill and minimize the contamination of coastal areas and wildlife, Obama admitted, "the job isn't done."

The president added that his administration and state and local governments "continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they've done and the painful losses that they've caused."

As it happens, BP, which has taken the brunt of the criticism for the spill, filed a $40 billion lawsuit Wednesday against Transocean, the company that owned the oil rig that exploded.  BP alleges that Transocean is "the responsible party" for the damages that occurred.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Can FDA Determine Whether to Import Execution Drug?

Paul Tearle/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On Wednesday night, the Department of Justice asked a federal judge to dismiss a case brought by a death row inmate who argues that the FDA should prohibit the importation of a drug used for lethal injection executions.

Daniel Cook, who is on death row in Arizona, argues that the FDA is violating federal law and its own prior policies by allowing the importation of sodium thiopental from unapproved foreign suppliers.

Arizona and other states are scrambling to get supplies of the drug because it is no longer manufactured in the United States.

The Obama administration argues in Wednesday's filing that the FDA has full discretion whether to launch an investigation or enforcement action and the decision is "not subject to judicial review."

According to the DOJ brief: "Plaintiffs’ assertion that they are at risk of injury from defects in thiopental is pure speculation and, as a matter of law, insufficient to satisfy the standing requirement of 'injury-in-fact.'”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Wildfires Consume Area Size of Rhode Island

Hemera Technologies/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- Several wild fires continue to burn through drought-stricken Texas, consuming over one million acres of land and destroying about 150 homes and a church, according to the Texas Forest Service.

On Tuesday, authorities began enforcing evacuation orders in Palo Pinto, 50 miles west of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area. So far 1,700 first responders from 34 states have responded to the cry for help from Texas authorities, not counting volunteer firefighters.

"They told us to get the heck out," Palo Pinto resident Coleman Price told ABC News Austin affiliate KVUE. Price spent his last few hours in town packing up family belongings such as files and clothes.

The fire, which began on Friday in the area of Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas (about 70 miles west of Dallas-Ft. Worth), has spread west, causing devastating fires in the surrounding communities. "I would get text after text, 'we lost our house'," Hopi Hodge of Palo Pinto County told KVUE from a shelter in Ft. Worth. Prisoners at the Palo Pinto County Jail were transferred out of the area to safety.

Some area residents left cars, trucks and trailers in open fields in the hopes that they might be spared from the coming blaze. Others decided to try to tough it out against government orders to try to defend their homesteads. Marty Jones and her husband have decided to stay, but they are apprehensive. "It's never been this close before, I'm scared," she told KVUE.

There is some hope on the horizon for Texas residents and firefighters, with rain and higher humidity levels forecast for Wednesday and Thursday. However, there is still only a 20 to 30 percent chance of rain in the area according to Daniel Huckaby, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, as firefighters continue to fight the inferno.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Enraged Over Child Support, Husband Batters Wife in Front of Judge

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) -- Catie Scott-Gonzalez went to an oral surgeon Wednesday to have her mouth fixed so she can eat solid food again, the latest step in recuperating from a vicious beating inflicted by her husband in front of a judge who was finalizing their divorce.

Her husband, Paul Gonzalez, a former Marine, became enraged when Judge Ronald Rothschild ordered him to pay child support for the couple's two young children. The hearing -- and the alleged beating -- took place in the judge's private chambers at the Broward County Courthouse last Friday.

"The two things that triggered him the most were the child support and custody," Scott-Gonzalez, 23, told "He advised the judge that he thought child support was unconstitutional."

When Rothschild reprimanded Gonzalez, 28, telling him he'd go to jail if he didn't pay child support, the former Marine erupted, Scott-Gonzalez said.

"He had told the judge he was going to take the kids and nobody was going to see them again...I looked at the judge to see the judge's response," she said. "When he came after me, it was from behind...he started strangling me with his left hand and started hitting me on my face with his right hand."

Scott-Gonzalez's mother, Doreen Scott, was outside of the chambers waiting for her daughter to wrap up the proceedings when she heard the tussle.

"We heard banging and screaming and then as I started to run in, all of these bailiffs came from elevators with canine dogs. I just said, 'Where is my daughter?'" Scott said.

Her daughter was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The first blow to her head had knocked her unconscious. Bailiffs had to Taser Gonzalez twice to subdue him.

The Ft. Lauderdale woman spent three days in the hospital with a broken nose, fractured cheekbone and broken jaw. She was so badly beaten that her children, Isabella, 2, and Nathaniel, 3, didn't recognize their mother.

Scott-Gonzalez's vision is so blurred that she had to withdraw from her college classes because she'll be unable to study for her upcoming finals.

Her now-ex-husband is behind bars on a $1 million bond. He's facing felony battery charges.

Scott-Gonzalez said that this wasn't the first time her four-year marriage has turned violent. She filed for a restraining order twice before, but it was denied. When she separated from her husband a year ago and moved in with her mother, she started carrying a Taser to protect herself. Now she fears for her safety when Gonzalez gets out of jail.

"What would he do if he got me behind closed doors," she said. "I will be fearful for my safety and children's safety for the rest of my life."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio