TigerText – LBPD’s Illegal Destruction of Evidence

By: 
Stephen Downing

The general public’s first exposure to TigerText, a cell phone text messaging application, occurred this past July when mainstream media reported the app was at the center of legal wrangling between Shari Redstone’s National Amusement company and CBS CEO Les Moonves. Hollywood insiders said TigerText was being used to insure messaging would not be discoverable in litigation.

The Beachcomber had learned about TigerText and its use by the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) five months earlier.

In February 2018 a confidential source inside the LBPD informed the Beachcomber that the app was in use by detectives assigned to narcotics, gangs, intelligence and homicide units, including detectives who investigate officer involved shootings.

The source said that when the app was assigned the detectives received no written instruction and were told: “The app is to be used in situations where we don’t want the texting information to get out to the public – or to be discoverable.”

Beachcomber research and consultation with a legal scholar confirmed that the LBPD’s use of TigerText in investigations is a violation of Penal Code Section 135, destroying or concealing evidence and Penal Code Section 153, compounding or concealing crimes.

Beachcomber research also revealed that the texting application is produced and licensed primarily to medical organizations by TigerConnect, a Santa Monica-based technology company.

The messaging system’s advertised use is for medical teams that need to communicate via text to manage patient emergencies, but also to enable the team messaging to be deleted by an administrator when the incident is resolved in order to protect confidential medical information – as required by federal law.

The deletions are permanent and not recoverable.

Several phone calls to TigerText to inquire about the extent and legality of the company’s licensing of the messaging platform to law enforcement agencies were not returned.

The Beachcomber contacted the First Amendment Coalition – an award-winning California based nonprofit organization dedicated to a more open and accountable government – and described what little was known at the time about the application’s use by the LBPD and inquired as to the organizations knowledge of TigerText or other similar self-destructing messaging apps used by law enforcement.

A spokesperson said that the organization was aware of the spread of messaging apps like Blink, Wickr and Confide, had not heard of TigerText or the use of these kinds of applications by law enforcement, but said that “learning of its use by a law enforcement agency is very troubling.”

In order to corroborate the LBPD source who originally reported the LBPD use of TigerText, the Beachcomber filed a public records request (PRA) with the City of Long Beach on February 10, requesting financial records for any payments made to TigerText or TigerConnect between 2013 and 2017.

Within two days the city responded: “No records exist.”

The Beachcomber double checked with a second LBPD inside source and verified that the app was currently in use on city cell phones assigned to detectives.

The second source added, “Once the brass saw how effective it was in detectives they expanded its use and assigned it to all ranks lieutenant and above – right up to the chief of police.”

When asked if the application was assigned to city employees or elected officials the source said, “I’ve only heard rumors about that but don’t know for sure.”

The Beachcomber asked Councilmember Suzie Price, chair of the city council’s public safety committee if she used the TigerText App and she stated that she has never heard of it. She asked, “What does it do?”

The Beachcomber consulted with attorney’s working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about the ramifications surrounding the LBPD’s destruction of text evidence, its impact upon the justice system and asked that the ACLU file a public records request with the City of Long Beach.

Five months later the Beachcomber learned that the city and LBPD had stonewalled its original PRA request.

The city provided “responsive documents” to the ACLU. The document release was limited to a few emails, purchase orders and invoices but did provide conclusive proof that the LBPD began using the TigerText app in 2014 and pays an annual licensing fee of $9,800 for its use.

The scant information contained in the emails provided was primarily limited to discussion surrounding requests for TigerText invoice payments.

The emails did provide evidence that the key players involved in the TigerText implementation were Lt. Lloyd Cox, then in charge of homicide (now IAD commander) and former Deputy Chief David Hendricks, then the head of the LBPD detective bureau. He is now the Fullerton Chief of Police, currently on administrative suspension pending the Orange County D.A.’s decision to file criminal assault charges related to an incident investigated by the Irvine Police Department.

The text communications also indicate the TigerText app, which is designed to work across large organizations, had also been put into play by narcotic detectives assigned to work federal/state task forces.

At the time the documents were delivered to the ACLU, the Beachcomber was working with Al Jazeera investigative producer, Jeremy Young, on a variety of investigative inquiries into the LBPD’s organizational culture.

To further test the LBPD’s integrity for response to PRA requests, the Beachcomber asked Young to file a PRA with the city on behalf of Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, which he did. At that time the Al Jazeera investigative unit began its own independent investigation into the LBPD’s use of TigerText.

The Beachcomber then filed a second PRA on July 24, 2018.

The details of the Beachcomber’s second filing included a claim for documents that would reveal who brought the idea of using the Tiger Text app to the LBPD, what legal advice was sought, at what level its use was approved, a roster of LBPD assignments to which the app was deployed, if it the app was provided to employees outside the LBPD or to elected officials and what written policies, procedures and operational orders and instructions were provided by the city and the police department to those to whom the TigerText App was assigned.

On August 2, the LBPD acknowledged to the Beachcomber that responsive records exist, stating, “We are compiling and reviewing relevant data and will produce the records as promptly as possible.”

The LBPD did not provide the records already delivered to the ACLU.

On June 2, 30 days after the Beachcomber filed its second PRA the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit received “responsive records” from the city. The records delivered were exactly the same as those provided to ACLU lawyers on June 21.

On Sept. 6 the Beachcomber filed a follow-up on the LBPD PRA website, stating “This PRA was filed over a month ago. We have been informed there are responsive records. When can we anticipate receiving them?”

At the time of this publication neither the city nor the LBPD have delivered any records requested in the second PRA or responded to the status update email request

The Beachcomber joined with ACLU staff and the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit to coordinate and file PRA request with 31 law enforcement agencies across California in order to determine the extent to which TigerText is used by local law enforcement.

At the time of this publication it appears that the LBPD will stand alone as the only California police agency that destroys evidence using the TigerText or any other self-destruct text application.

Twenty-two police agencies reported that they have no responsive records. Nine agencies have yet to respond at the time of this publication.

Al Jazeera’s investigation into the use of TigerText found that the Georgia Department of Corrections also began using the application in 2013. But lawyers for the department quickly decided that its use would likely violate Georgia law, possibly breaching the state’s record retention legislation and most likely leading to court discovery violations.

Al Jazeera’s Investigation Unit also obtained a statement from Nikhil Ramnaney, a deputy public defender with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office who said his office might now be forced to review all Long Beach cases since 2014, adding: “I don’t know what information is into those TIgerTexts, it could be exculpatory, it could lend to practices that are unconstitutional or even illegal.

Tom Barham, a former Los Angeles Sheriff’s lieutenant and distinguished civil rights attorney who was briefed by the Beachcomber on the LBPD’s use of TigerText said, “Concealment is inconsistent with the intent and spirit of the Public Records Act.”

Regarding the application’s use in police investigations Barham said, “Some aspects of police work are properly shielded by privilege laws. However, those in public service who set out to conceal their activities by erasing all vestiges of it are sneaks who should look elsewhere for work.”

A source in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office – who is not authorized to make public statements – was briefed by the Beachcomber on the use of TigerText by the LBPD and asked if DA Jackie Lacey would be disturbed about its use.

The prosecutor replied, “That is beyond disturbing. It’s a back door in an investigation that should be discoverable. Jackie Lacey would be offended by this. It’s an obstruction of justice.”

A request for comment was sent to the Long Beach Chief of Police Robert Luna and the Long Beach City Manager Pat West. At the time of publication there has been no response.

However, the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit – who published their investigation within the same relative time frame as this article – received a response from the LBPD yesterday, reporting that the department said it “complies with all laws related to discovery and any information relevant to a specific investigation would be documents and provided according to legal requirements.”

The Beachcomber findings thus far – that the LBPD has no written policy or instruction that accompanies distribution of the application – puts that statement in serious doubt.

Requests for comment were made to District Attorney Jackie Lacey, California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the Central District U.S. Attorney General, Nicola Hanna. Each of the prosecutors were asked to provide a general assessment of the possible impact the use of TigerText by the LBPD will have upon criminal convictions and civil rights actions since its implementation by the LBPD in 2014.

At the time of this publication the Beachcomber has received no response – other than an acknowledgement of receipt – from any of the prosecutors.

This news article will be updated as comments are received and new information on the LBPD’s use of TigerText develops.

 

Stephen Downing is a Long Beach resident and retired LAPD Deputy Chief

stephen@beachcomber.news

 

[Editor Note: TigerText, based in Santa Monica, changed its corporate name to TigerConnect in March 2018 to reflect its primary role in preserving medical patient confidentiality.]

 

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Comments

Unbelievable! If anyone outside of the Police Department was aware of this practice, including the Mayor, Council, City Manager, City Attorney and down, they need to be fired and replaced immediately! I smell a huge influx of hungry attorneys on their way!

This report exposes facts about the daily operations of a criminal enterprise. Can there be any doubt that the LBPD is a taxpayer-funded, politician-protected criminal organization? The big question is, who can hold them accountable?

Who can hold them accountable? Simple. You. They are public servants and we are the public.

This is exactly why we need to vote YES on Measure AAA in November. The measure will strengthen the City Auditor to have access to all records. The current charter only allows the Auditor to access financial records - the Auditor must be given full access! Vote YES

@ Rachel..MEASURE AAA does NOT strengthen ACCESS...it changes the word of IMMEDIATE access to TIMELY access. So TIMELY access in this case is FIVE DAYS LATER the Text Messages are GONE!!! READ the text! Read the Ballot Arguments- who do you trust- the Politicians or your Neighborhood leaders?

The management of the LBPD has no regard for truth. The only way to move up the ranks is to lie and omit information damaging to the department and city. The city attorney is complicit by failing to correct misdeeds by the LBPD and their willingness to cover up and encourage lying to protect the city.

They been doing this since 2011. Pulled a stolen cell phone off a person that had my info in it and tried to charged me with a crime I had nothing whatsoever to do with.

I have been told by lbusd to call lbpd when there are problems with schools perimeter or walking safely to school. The lbusd is responsible for point to point meaning home to school. The pd says traffic around schools perimeter is largest complaint by residents. So our money goes to lbpd to try to enforce when it's the legal responsibility of lbusd. So I'm wondering how much money should lbusd pay back our police officers for doing illegal policing. Or is it illegal? Also what is lbusd response for principals lying to parents and telling us to call the police when lbusd has paperwork for school routes that clearly states point to point language

Long Beach Administrative Regulation AR8-17, Issue 2 specifically addresses instant messaging and that these are to be retained and stored for a period of time and not deleted. Luna’s LA Times interview this afternoon claiming the PD didn’t know they were doing something wrong and illegal doesn’t hold water. Either he’s being less than honest about this or he’s very naive!

Or, he is an outright liar who is smart enough to play stupid but corrupt enough to think he can continue that role. History has proven to us that bad cops are never loyal. They squeal on each other as soon as the cuffs go on. They always seem to pick a retiring patsy to take the blame ... Pat West. Seems like something Steve James would've came up with. (who by the way, should also be tested and graded on this issue).

Don't forget, Luna and McDonnell investigated former Det. Yvonne Robinson for leaking info to a gang about a murder investigation. Without a doubt, her cellphone was the first place they looked for evidence against her. They knew what they were doing.

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