ST. LOUIS (CN) – Four city police officers accused of sharing a photo of the bloody body of a crime suspect must turn over their personal cell phone records, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey ruled that a limited search of the officers’ cell phone records would be reasonable.
He found that Officers Nicholas Manasco, Thomas Favazza, Curtis Burgdorf and Stephen Schroder should have known that their private phone information could be sought in an investigation of work-related misconduct.
Judge Laughrey compared it to a vital piece of evidence taken from a crime scene and hidden in an officer’s car.
The St. Louis Police Internal Affairs Division requested the cell phone records of the four officers from March 8 through March 18 after getting a tip from a private citizen.
Judge Laughrey dismissed the privacy and First and Fourth Amendment claims raised by the officers and their families, who share or own the phones.
Laughrey was brought in from the Western District of Missouri after all St. Louis federal judges recused themselves.
The investigation centers on a photo of the bullet-riddled body of Carlos Boles, lying dead in a poll of his own blood after a shootout with officers in which a U.S. deputy marshal died.
An officer apparently sent the picture to the wrong number; instead of going to a fellow officer it went to a female student at Saint Louis University.
The student reported the photo to the police department, who traced it to Officer Blake Witzman, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Witzman has acknowledged his role and supplied his cell phone records to investigators, officials said.
Lt. Michael McAteer, deputy commander of internal affairs, told the Post-Dispatch that police traced the photo to Manasco, Favazza, Burgdorf and Schroder. McAteer said the department wants to find out how many other officers forwarded the photo, which eventually reached the news media and Boles’ family.
The Police Officers Association said it will appeal.
Jeff Roorda, the association’s business manager, told Fox-2 News that he will recommend that officers immediately stop using their cell phones on official business, even though it would mean more risk to the public.