- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cellphones seized from more than 100 individuals arrested during President Trump’s inauguration are being scoured for criminal evidence, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Prosecuting attorneys for the nation’s capital said in a court filing Wednesday that the government is in the midst of extracting data from cellphones obtained from dozens of individuals arrested in connection with a massive rioting case currently before Superior Court in Washington, D.C.

Police arrested approximately 230 protesters in downtown D.C. during Mr. Trump’s inauguration on January 20, and a grand jury has since returned an indictment charging 214 of them with felony rioting.

“On the day of the arrests, the government recovered cell phones from more than 100 indicted defendants and other un-indicted arrested in connection with this matter,” U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips wrote in Wednesday’s filing. “The government is in the process of extracting data from the Rioter Cell Phones pursuant to lawfully issued search warrants, and expects to be in a position to produce all of the data from the searchers Rioter Cell Phones in the next several weeks.”

Each of the mobile devices was in a locked state at the time it was seized, he added, “which requires more time-sensitive efforts to try to obtain the data.

Once cracked, prosecutors said the phones may show evidence relevant to the felony riot charges at hand, potentially including but not limited to text messages between co-conspirators and photographic proof of rioting in action.

Investigators expect they’ll find much more information regarding the Inauguration Day protest, however. Prosecutors said they plan to put copies of the seized data in an online file exchange accessible to attorneys, and proposed a protective order Wednesday that would prohibit lawyers from copying evidence from the phones of defendants they don’t represent.

Seized phone evidence slated to be made available will likely include “a large amount of irrelevant personal information such as private photographs, videos, medical data and identifying information that should not be disseminated,” Mr. Phillips wrote. “However, there is no legitimate purpose for the defense attorneys in this case to share copies of irrelevant data from other arrestees’ phones with their client.”

Investigators’ desire to pull evidence from locked or password-protected smartphones has proven to be problematic in the past, with the FBI having reportedly paid a significant sum last year to access an Apple iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one-half of the married couple accused of carrying out a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

It was not clear how investigators planned to obtain access from the seized phones and at what cost, and prosecuting attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment. An attorney for lead defendant Nathaniel Jaffe requested a hearing regarding any government request for a search warrant last month, but it was denied within days by Judge Lynn Leibovitz, according to court filings.

Prosecutors allege Inauguration Day riots in Washington resulted in more than $100,000 worth of damages to buildings, properties and vehicles. Some protesters had armed themselves with hammers, crowbars and bricks and “cheered and celebrated the violence and destruction,” prosecutors alleged.

Arraignments in the matter are slated to begin early next month, Buzzfeed reported Thursday.

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