Last August, Jose LaSalle, a prominent New York City Cop Watch activist, was arrested after filming a stop-and-frisk near a housing project in the South Bronx. Though filming the police is legal, LaSalle was charged with “obstructing governmental administration.” LaSalle claims he was standing far away from the incident. To continue documenting his own arrest, the veteran activist left his two phones and a GoPro camera turned on and recording as he was being taken to a nearby police station.
LaSalle spent the night in jail, and was released the next day after the Bronx District Attorney’s Office declined to charge him. LaSalle immediately went to pick up his stuff, hoping one of his many recording devices had captured some evidence of illegality in his arrest. But that evening, before he could extract any information from his phones and camera, LaSalle was arrested again. He had told some friends that he had evidence on his phone regarding what he considered an illegal arrest—they had tweeted about it. Four police officers, including the precinct’s commanding officer, Jerry P. O’Sullivan, promptly walked into the diner where LaSalle was having dinner and handcuffed him, claiming that he hadn’t been given a court date while in booking. They also said they wanted his phone.
LaSalle was taken to a holding cell, where he says an officer asked for the password to his phone (LaSalle declined to provide it). The activist was released after a few hours, but this time, he says, police would not give him back his recording devices, which they said were needed for an investigation. LaSalle checked his e-mail and found a message from an app called Lockwatch, which he had installed on his now-captive phone. Someone was trying to get into the device.
Lockwatch is an Android app that alerts users when someone has wrongly entered a passcode. The app works by silently snapping a picture of the individual who has entered the wrong passcode using the front camera. It also records the incident for 20 seconds using the phone’s microphone and provides time-stamped GPS coordinates of the location in which the passcode entry attempt took place. Lockwatch reported to LaSalle that a phone-passcode entry attempt had occurred at 11:01 PM August 6, which LaSalle says was roughly an hour after he had been brought to the police station and had handed over his phone.