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'Stingray' Front And Center In Lawsuit Against Baltimore Police

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Police kept it a secret, but now it's front and center in a lawsuit. It's called "Stingray," a high-tech way of breaking into cell phones.

WJZ's Alex DeMetrick reports the suit alleges police are breaking the law.

Earlier this month, Kerron Andrews was reunited with his mother. Andrews had just been released from jail, where he had been held for two years while waiting to go on trial for attempted murder.

Now, he's suing about how he was arrested, and the Baltimore Police Department is the defendant.

"It has long been the law of this land that a search warrant is required and a warrant must be issued by a judge," said James Astrachan, Andrews' lawyer.

Instead, police used "Stingray" technology to find Andrews inside a house. It works by finding a cell phone and getting to the data it contains.

"And they start sending signals out through the walls of the home, through the pocket of Mr. Andrews, into his cell phone, activating his cell phone and retrieving information from his cell phone," said Deborah Levi, Andrews' lawyer.

Without a warrant, Andrews' lawyers claim that's illegal search and seizure.

"These violations of the constitution are vile," said Astrachan.

WJZ learned last year Baltimore police had entered into an agreement with Stingray's manufacturer to keep the technology secret.

"This isn't about reading their emails, seeing text messages, pulling pictures, any of that sort of thing. This is really about finding some of the most violent criminals in the city," said Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, former Baltimore police spokesperson.

The technology being challenged isn't like fishing with a hook and line. Instead, it's like casting a wide net.

"They sweep up information of every single phone in range, whether suspect or not," said David Rocah, Baltimore ACLU.

The Court of Appeals ordered Kerron Andrews be placed on home detention until his criminal trial. If his lawsuit is successful, it might lock out secret "Stingray" searches.

Andrews' lawsuit has not yet set a dollar amount for damages. His lawyers say the main goal right now is to stop police from using secret technology without a warrant.

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