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Cops Sent Warrant To Facebook To Dig Up Dirt On Woman Whose Boyfriend They Had Just Killed


Everything anyone has ever said about staying safe while interacting with the police is wrong. That citizens are told to comport themselves in complete obeisance just to avoid being beaten or shot by officers is itself bizarre -- an insane inversion of the term "public servant." But Philando Castile, who was shot five times and killed by (now former) Officer Jeronimo Yanez, played by all the rules (which look suspiciously like the same instructions given to stay "safe" during an armed robbery). It didn't matter.

Castile didn't have a criminal record -- or at least nothing on it that mattered. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been allowed to own a weapon, much less obtain a permit to conceal the gun. Castile told Yanez -- as the permit requires -- he had a concealed weapon. He tried to respond to the officer's demand for his ID, reaching into his pocket. For both of these compliant efforts, he was killed.

Castile's shooting might have gone unnoticed -- washed into the jet stream of "officer-involved killings" that happen over 1,000 time a year. But his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, immediately live-streamed the aftermath via Facebook. Her boyfriend bled out while responding officers tried to figure out what to do, beyond call for more backup to handle a dead black man sitting in his own vehicle. Only after Yanez fired seven bullets into the cab of the vehicle did officers finally remove his girlfriend's four year old daughter.

To "win" at killing citizens, you must start the spin immediately. Yanez spun his own, speaking to a lawyer less than two hours after killing Castile. Local law enforcement did the same thing. Documents obtained by Tony Webster show Special Agent Bill O'Donnell issued a warrant to Facebook for "all information retained" by the company on Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend. This was to include all email sent or received by that account, as well as "chat logs," which presumably means the content of private messages. The warrant also demands any communications that may have been deleted by Reynolds, as well as metadata on photos or videos uploaded to Facebook. It came accompanied with an indefinite gag order.

Why would law enforcement want (much less need) information from the victim's girlfriend's Facebook account? It appears officers were looking to justify the killing after the fact. The following sworn statement was contained in the affidavit:

Your affiant is aware through training and expertise that individuals frequently call and/or text messages to each other regarding criminal activity during and/or after and [sic] event has occurred.

This is warrant boilerplate, especially when it comes to obtaining information from accounts or devices. But this warrant should be considered anything but business as usual. Should be. Isn't. This is the actual standard operating procedure after an officer kills someone: the department goes digging through its criminal records to find any reason at all to have killed the person and to buttress "feared for safety" excuses given by officers -- awarding them points for effort based on information they didn't have when they ended someone's life.

When it comes to police shootings in America, there are no aggressors in uniform, only victims. Officer Yanez made his own excuses, theorizing Castile's willingness to smoke pot in front of a 4-year-old child indicated Castile had no respect for human life.

I thought, I was gonna die, and I thought if he's, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me?

Following his testimony's logic, smoking pot in front of a child has so severely damaged Castile's moral compass, he apparently would have thought nothing about shooting an officer over a non-functioning tail light. There's no logical boundary cops won't cross to pin the blame on the dead. Hence the Facebook warrant to dig up dirt on his girlfriend in hopes of adding a bit more post facto righteousness to the shoot.

The only upside -- and it's incredibly small given the surrounding circumstances -- is Facebook refused to hand over the information on the grounds that the indefinite gag order was unconstitutional. Faced with this pushback, Minnesota police withdrew the warrant. But in the end, Yanez was acquitted and Philando Castile is still dead -- a man who did nothing more than try to comply with an officer's orders.


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