TigerText – LBPD's Illegal Destruction of Evidence

By: 
Stephen Downing

[Editor’s Note: This is an edited (with additions in brackets) version of the online Beachcomber story appearing as breaking news on Sept. 18.]

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 Feb. 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?” [On Sept. 20 Price stated “We will be agendizing this for a future public safety meeting or at council. I agree that it’s a significant revelation and one that is of significant concern for me as a (Orange County) prosecutor.”]

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, pays an annual licensing fee of $9,800 and 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.

Hendricks 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, 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.

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 requests 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.

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 “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.”

[The Beachcomber was subsequently notified by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office that “the matter has been referred to the District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division for review.” The following day the Los Angeles Times reported that the District Attorney has initiated an investigation into the use of TigerText by the LBPD.]

A request for comment was sent to the Long Beach Chief of Police Robert Luna and the Long Beach City Manager Pat West. [On Friday, Sept. 21, a press release stated: The City of Long Beach is announcing an independent outside review of the Long Beach Police Department’s use of a direct messaging application called TigerConnect (formerly TigerText). The review was initiated by the city manager in partnership with the city attorney and will consist of an outside firm hired to independently review the use of the messaging application within the LBPD.”]

Editor’s Note: Downing expresses his views on how the city review should be handled. Go to www.beachcomber.news and see “TigerText Review Is Not Independent” in the Opinion Section.

The Al Jazeera Investigative Unit – who published their investigation within the same relative time frame as this article – received a response from the LBPD [Sept. 17], 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.

[On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the following comment was posted on our website by an anonymous source identified as Former LBPD: “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!”]

[On Saturday Sept. 22, following Chief Luna’s press conference, one Beachcomber LBPD source wrote, “…the PD’s response that the app was being used to communicate confidential victim information is pure BS. Lloyd Cox presented the app at a management training day and the explanation he gave as to why we are getting the app was: “Anything you send via text messages or emails is subject to discovery, so if you need to send anything that you don’t want handed over, use this app because it deletes all the messages and there is no record of it stored anywhere.”]

[On the same day another LBPD inside source contacted the Beachcomber and wrote, “Lloyd Cox, told us in a in a weekly homicide unit meeting in the 5th floor conference room to use it (TigerText app) to discuss information that should stay within the unit and not be discoverable. I told him all information related to homicides and OIS’s (officer involved shootings) is discoverable and I wouldn’t use it. ]

[Editor’s Note: Updates to this story as well as numerous reader comments can be found on our website at www.beachcomber.news under the “news” tab.]

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

stephen@beachcomber.news

Category:

Comments

Are you kidding me, Garcia runs Luna. Fired? How about all of them (including the city manager) getting prosecuted for conspiracy to conceal evidence. But I got a feeling, as per usual, they are all just gonna get away with yet another corrupt practice. Just look at what happened to the drunk driving/domestic violence incident council person - NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!

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