- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2016

A Florida sheriff said Wednesday that he’ll arrest Apple CEO Tim Cook if the tech company ever refuses to unlock an iPhone for his investigators.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd issued the warning at a press conference this week where authorities discussed the arrests of five individuals accused of being linked to the brutal January 2015 death of Robert Banks, an alleged drug dealer.

Polk County sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday night arrested three brothers — Brian Johnson, Jr. 25, Anthony Johnson, 19, and Nathan Johnson, 17 — and their friend, Michael Gunn, 25, in connection with the January murder. Brian Johnson Sr., the 47-year-old father of the brothers, was arrested Wednesday and charged as an accessory after the fact, The Ledger reported.

Sheriff Judd told reporters that the murder suspects took pictures of Banks’ lifeless body and that the images are believed to still be on one of their smartphones. The suspects are cooperating with authorities and have given up the passcodes to their devices so investigators can search for the grisly pictures, the sheriff said.

But amid the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to access the contents from an iPhone at the center of an unrelated terrorism probe, Sheriff Judd said he’s ready to do whatever it takes if Apple stonewalls any similar attempts out of Polk County.

“Let me tell you, the first time we do have trouble getting into a cellphone, we’re going to seek a court order from Apple, and when they deny us, I’m going to go lock the CEO of Apple up,” Sheriff Judd said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I’ll lock the rascal up.”


Justice Department attorneys last month asked a District Court judge to force Apple into giving investigators access to content stored on an iPhone 5c belonging to Syed Farook, half of the husband-and-wife duo blamed for killing 14 people during a December shooting spree in San Bernardino, California.

Lawyers for the U.S. government believe Farook’s iPhone may have evidence critical to their investigation and could potentially link the couple to international terrorism, but require Apple’s assistance since the couple died during a shootout with police, leaving authorities unable to access the phone’s data.

Apple said that assisting the FBI any further would involve writing and deploying new, exploitable code that would compromise security for millions of customers and set a dangerous precedent.

“You cannot create a business model to go, ‘We’re not paying attention to the federal judge or the state judge. You see, we’re above the law,’” Sheriff Judd said, the Orlando Sentinel reported. “The CEO of Apple needs to know he’s not above the law, and neither is anybody else in the United States.”


• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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