New Settlement Prevents Prolonged Phone Seizures By San Diego Police

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If you are arrested by San Diego police and they take your cell phone, they cannot keep it for an unreasonable amount of time. The new policy is the result of a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a Black Lives Matter protestor.

Christina Griffin-Jones was among the protestors arrested for unlawful assembly on September 23, 2020, during a Black Lives Matter protest.

“We were out there marching for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed, by police,” she said. 

She was released the following day but had to wait through the weekend to get her belongings back, some of her belongings.  

“When I got there on Monday, I was given my insulin and my backpack, but they said they had no record of my cell phone, and they said, if it was there, I’d get it back and I waited and waited and no cell phone.”  

Besides important work and phone numbers, her cell phone had her health information on it.

“As a type-one diabetic, I have my blood sugar communicated to me through like a scan on my phone.”

“When the cell phone is not there, that’s a big problem,” said Brody McBride one of the lawyers and civil rights groups that filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Griffin-Jones, who also said the Griffin-Jones case was not an isolated one. “SDPD phones just kind of ended up in a black hole, people couldn’t find out where their phones are, 'How do you get it back? Who do you call? How long are they going to have it, are they searching it?'”

The federal lawsuit resulted in a policy that the ACLU said will, “protect people from SDPD’s unreasonable prolonged cell phone seizures.”

As part of the settlement of the federal lawsuit, the city of San Diego agreed to put in place a new policy requiring officers either to get a warrant to hold or search any phone they seize or return the phone within a reasonable amount of time.

“To our knowledge, it’s a first-in-the-nation policy. No other law enforcement agencies we were able to find, have anything like this," McBride said.

Griffin-Jones says the policy is a, “win for the rights of organizers and activists and people with cell phones,” but she does not have faith it will be enforced, and officers will be held accountable. 

“I think the same thing that got this policy to happen is going to be the same thing that makes sure that they follow it, and I think that’s the power of the people,” said Griffin-Jones.

McBride said it is a good policy on paper and, "We have to take the city and police at their word that after helping to create the policy they will do the work and training to make sure it is enforced.”

McBride says the settlement reaffirms the rights of protestors to use cell phones to record public officials acting in the course and scope of their public duties, and help combat police misconduct, but he says there is more.

“It also just helps the average everyday San Diegan that happened to get arrested for something… not very serious, and ends up bailing out, or getting released on their own recognizance in a couple of hours of their arrest, get their phone back, which is very important in this day and age,” Griffin-Jones said. “This policy is one that I hope folks know about so that when their rights are violated, they know there's something they can do to be able to push back.”

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