Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don't Run Your Air Conditioner Too Much Or the Police Might Use Your Power Records to Bust Your Ass

"North Vancouver RCMP have backed off on a request that would have forced BC Hydro to turn over the records of more than a thousand North Vancouver homeowners using large amounts of power to police."

"BC Hydro filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court this month fighting the request after a North Vancouver judge ordered the power company to hand over a list of residential addresses to police of anyone in North Vancouver whose power consumption averaged more than 93 kilowatt hours per day"

Vanvoucer Sunn - Hydro fights RCMP on power records
North Van detachment backs off on court order for heavy consumers


"BC Hydro asked for a judicial review of the decision, arguing the order was too broad.

In an affidavit filed in court, the power company expressed concern that the order could end up forcing it to hand over records of law-abiding citizens and subjecting them to a police investigation even though there is little likelihood they are involved in marijuana grow-ops."

Global B.C. - Hydro fights RCMP on power records


"But a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court by Hydro says the judge erred in law because the order does not include a term denoting specific dates or a period of time and “is therefore unduly vague.”

An affidavit attached to the petition says Hydro is concerned that providing the list to the RCMP would subject many of its customers to an investigation even though “there is little or no likelihood that they are involved in growing marijuana.”"

The Province - B.C. Hydro to challenge court order to hand over power consumption records


Here is a link to a legal article about a B.C. law that allowed electrical inspectors to enter homes with odd or high electrical usage (halfway down the page):

Arkinstall v. Surrey


"In Arkinstall v. City of Surrey (2008 BCSC 1419), Mr. Justice Smart of the B.C. Supreme Court held that police officers could not, as a matter of course or policy, accompany the City’s Electrical and Fire Safety Inspections Team (the “EFSI Team”) during residential inspections made under the Safety Standards Act (the “SSA”). "

"Three things can be taken from Arkinstall. First, Mr. Justice Smart upheld the use of the electrical consumption threshold used as a basis for property inspections, together with the overall inspection regime established under the SSA. Second, the decision continues to uphold a lower standard of Charter of Rights review for inspections that occur in situations that typically involve local governments, and specifically referred to the decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal in R. v. Bichel (1986) 4 B.C.L.R. (2d) 132, which the Petitioners argued was “dated”. Third, it is now clear that police entry into private residences during inspections has to be justified on a case by case basis, rather than being based on a general policy. Police involvement in inspections will have to either be pursuant to a warrant, or justified under the common law test."


Here is an article about the legality of police using third parties (such as utility companies) to gather evidence using the extra access that they have to homes - in this article, asking the electric company to put an extra electrical usage monitor on a person's home:

"Although Gomboc revolves around the constitutionality of DRA evidence, one of the most interesting facets of the case is Enmax’s role in procuring the damning evidence.

Out of necessity, homeowners must grant utility companies greater access to their premises than they would afford the general public. This is also true for a range of other services and products – an Internet Service Provider (ISP), for instance, may have access to personal and identifying information that would attract a reasonable expectation of privacy.

In addressing whether a provincially-enacted regulation could be used by police to obtain DRA records from a utility company without a warrant, Martin J.A. noted that such a regulation would allow police to “recruit any agency with limited access to a home to exploit the access to gather information for them.” Using the example of a mail deliverer who could look in through a home’s windows or a cable television provider who could disclose the viewing habits of a subscriber, he concluded that “such unauthorized state surveillance of its citizens … would render the protection of a reasonable expectation of privacy over one’s home illusory.”

The fact that a commercial service provider used its access to help police obtain a crucial piece of evidence adds a layer of complexity to the Gomboc case. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), which had intervener status in the recent Supreme Court hearings, has argued that Charter scrutiny applies when police exploit service relationships during an investigation. In its factum (PDF) for the Court proceedings, the CCLA argues that “an informed observer would conclude that exploiting third party access in such fashion is antithetical to any reasonable conception of privacy in a modern democracy.”

The Court ("THE COURT is the online resource for debate & data about the Supreme Court of Canada") - Gomboc — Power Usage, Police Powers of Search, and the Role of Power Companies September 14th, 2010


Laws and rulings are still all over the map.

I will post some articles in the near future about the privacy dangers of the so-called electrical "smart-grid" and some commentary over how data can be used to monitor citizens' activities.

And if you think I am being alarmist about what can happen when police get real interested in your activities, read on...


A true story of what can happen to real people who have done nothing wrong when the police decide to go Rambo...

"Deadly Force
Acting on a mistaken drug trafficking suspicion, a SWAT team broke down [the] door [of the home of the Mayor of Berwyn Heights], shot beloved pets and shattered a happy home. Was it an extreme reaction, or business as usual in America's war on drugs?

[excerpts below - read the full story by clicking on the link at the bottom of the story]

"Cheye, struggling to understand, pieced together questions officers asked him and comments he overheard. Narcotics investigators for the Prince George's police had apparently left that white box on his front step, then sent SWAT officers from the Sheriff's Office to retrieve it. The box contained marijuana. Officers from the two county law enforcement agencies had apparently been parked watching his house all day. Yet they had apparently done so little investigatory work -- they hadn't even taken 30 seconds to Google Cheye -- that they didn't know they were launching a paramilitary attack on an elected official's home until after they'd broken down the door and shot the dogs. Cheye was particularly disturbed when he discovered that narcotics investigators seemed to have known that criminals had been mailing drugs addressed to innocent people, in hopes of intercepting the packages before the addressees claimed them."

"The guy in there is crazy," Johnson remembered a Prince George's County officer telling him when he arrived. "He says he is the mayor of Berwyn Heights."

"That is the mayor of Berwyn Heights," Johnson replied.

The detective looked very surprised, Johnson later recalled: "He had that 'Oh, crap' look on his face."

Alarmed, Johnson used his cellphone to notify Berwyn Heights Police Chief Patrick Murphy that, as improbable as it sounded, the Sheriff's Office SWAT team had apparently broken down the mayor's door, shot his dogs and confiscated a box containing 32 pounds of marijuana.

Murphy -- home gardening 54 miles away in St. Mary's County -- sat down, stunned. The 35-year veteran of law enforcement searched his memory for any clue he might have overlooked that the nice young mayor who loved his wife, those two goofy Labs and code enforcement could be involved with drugs. He couldn't come up with anything.

The chief told Johnson to go find their department's second-in-command, Det. Sgt. Ken Antolik, who was moonlighting a few blocks away from Calvo's house at the Blue Bird Driving School, to help him find out what in the heck was going on.

Inside the house, Cheye was starting to ask questions, too.

"Do you have a warrant?" he recalled asking more than once, until someone said:

"It's en route."

"I kept saying: 'This is a very terrible thing. This is just horrible.' The context in which I told them I was the mayor, I said, 'I'm the mayor of Berwyn heights, and I have to get to a community meeting tonight.' " Finally, one of the deputies, the men in black, nodded to the recently delivered big white box on the living room table and barked accusingly, "Do you know what is in this box?"

"A box," Cheye recalled thinking. "This is about the box?"

Someone shifted Cheye, his hands still bound behind him, into a chair. He could see blood pooling from beneath Payton's head. An officer picked up one of the boys' dog beds and used it to cover Payton's corpse. Cheye asked if they'd killed Chase, too, and someone said that they'd called animal control to remove two dead dogs.

"You shot my dogs," Cheye recalled saying over and over. "You shot my dogs. You shot my dogs. You shot my dogs."

At home in St. Mary's, Murphy dialed the cellphone of his second-in-command, now standing on the mayor's front lawn. Murphy's officer handed the phone to a Prince George's narcotics investigator, Det. Sgt. David Martini.

This is how Murphy later recalled their conversation:

"Martini tells me that when the SWAT team came to the door, the mayor met them at the door, opened it partially, saw who it was, and then tried to slam the door on them," Murphy recalled. "And that at that point, Martini claimed, they had to force entry, the dogs took aggressive stances, and they were shot."

"I later learned," Murphy said in an interview, "that none of that is true."

Martini said he was not free to comment for this article.


It was about 7:45 p.m. when Trinity turned her 1997 Suburu Outback with the kayak rack on top onto Edmonston. The road was so jammed with police vehicles that she couldn't reach her driveway. Assuming that the house had been robbed, Trinity abandoned her car and searched frantically for any sign of an ambulance.

"Is my husband okay?" she asked when Ken Antolik met her near her front gate. "Is my mom okay?

"Yes," he told her. "They are in the house.

Then it struck her. It was too quiet. She didn't hear dogs barking. She knew, even before she asked: "Payton and Chase?"

"I'm sorry," he said.

Trinity collapsed against his chest. A female officer eventually came and led her gently around to the back door. Trinity started in to find her husband and mother, then saw blood. There was so much blood. There was blood pooled near the door. Officers were tracking her dead dogs' blood all over the house. She backed outside.

"I remember sitting on the steps thinking, 'I'm never going to be able to live here again,' " Trinity recalled.

"I found something," Georgia heard a detective yell excitedly. The woman held a white envelope filled with cash. Inside, was $68. Across the front of the envelope were written two words: "yard sale."

The detective seemed crestfallen, Georgia said. Georgia, who had been moved, still bound, into the downstairs bedroom, says she overheard the woman saying something like: "It's my first raid, and we got the mayor's house."

Cheye, struggling to understand, pieced together questions officers asked him and comments he overheard. Narcotics investigators for the Prince George's police had apparently left that white box on his front step, then sent SWAT officers from the Sheriff's Office to retrieve it. The box contained marijuana. Officers from the two county law enforcement agencies had apparently been parked watching his house all day. Yet they had apparently done so little investigatory work -- they hadn't even taken 30 seconds to Google Cheye -- that they didn't know they were launching a paramilitary attack on an elected official's home until after they'd broken down the door and shot the dogs. Cheye was particularly disturbed when he discovered that narcotics investigators seemed to have known that criminals had been mailing drugs addressed to innocent people, in hopes of intercepting the packages before the addressees claimed them.

Yet, here he was, hands bound behind him, trying to convince county police that he and Trinity were not drug lords. "Look around," he tried arguing. "We own almost nothing but books. We live on 70 percent of our salary and bank the rest." Do drug lords tend organic gardens and store the decorations for the community's holiday parties in their garage?

In fact, the officers searching his house were unable to find any evidence of drugs other than the box they'd delivered. They didn't find gun caches or, aside from the yard sale money, stacks of cash. Cheye and Trinity didn't have a bong or hookah, not a single rolling paper, stem or seed. Cheye watched their search efforts grow halfhearted, he said.

Nobody seemed to know how to remove the plastic cuffs still binding his and Georgia's hands behind their backs. The deputies from the SWAT team who had put them on were gone. When Georgia and Cheye complained to detectives that the cuffs were cutting off their circulation, they said the detectives just shrugged. After awhile, the officer moved Cheye into the kitchen. From his new vantage, he could see into the dining room. Chase was lying dead in a pool of blood.

The scene at the house was so terrible and odd to Berwyn Heights officer Johnson that he planted himself in the living room. He couldn't see a search warrant posted anywhere. The mayor looked so vulnerable that Johnson wanted to make sure nothing even worse happened to him, such as getting shot. "Not that I didn't trust the police," Johnson would later say. "But I wanted to personally witness what is going to happen to my mayor, so if they try to say this guy went for a gun -- and he didn't -- it's not going to happen on my watch."

When animal control officers finally came for Payton and Chase, Cheye lost it. Payton's big head tumbled limply off the stretcher as they lifted it to take him away. "I roared," Cheye later recalled. "I broke down sobbing." Cheye had named his big boy for the late, great Chicago Bear Walter Payton, whose nickname was "Sweetness." Cheye's Payton ran more like a 350-pound lineman than like Walter Payton. But he was the sweetest, most wonderful dog Cheye had ever known, and strangers were taking him away forever. "My hands were still bound, so I couldn't get my hands to my face as tears just flowed down. I remember turning, and looking away."

Out on the back stoop, it seemed to Trinity that the detectives in their house had shifted into damage control. One pleasant woman, trying to make pleasant conversation, asked Trinity if she and Cheye ever planned to have children.

"All I could think was, Our dogs were our kids, and I can't believe you are asking me that," Trinity recalled. "I let it go and said that we were thinking about adopting."


Nearly four hours after the SWAT team broke down the front door, the detectives were ready to leave. Someone had figured out how to cut the cuffs off Cheye and Georgia. They had led Georgia outside to Trinity. Georgia was still so hysterical that she could barely speak.

Cheye says the lead officer at the scene, Prince George's Det. Shawn Scarlata, told him and Trinity that he could haul them all into jail because the box had been addressed to Trinity. But he said he wasn't going to as long as they cooperated. (Scarlata later said he could not comment on the case for this article.)

Johnson stayed to help Cheye lift the splintered door back into its frame and prop it there. There was no way to make the lock work. "I just felt so sorry for them," Johnson recalled. "I didn't know what to say. I told them I'd keep an eye on the house."

Cheye grasped Trinity by the shoulders. "Whatever happens," he said. "I don't want this to affect us." He was a romantic idealist. He had proposed to Trinity at the Jefferson Memorial. But he wasn't naive. This night had been so terrible, Cheye knew that it would change each of them forever in ways they couldn't predict. He felt only a determination not to allow this horror to creep inside their love.

Trinity, sobbing, said nothing could ruin their marriage, but they might have to move. She didn't know if she could live in this house. She didn't think she could stay in Prince George's County. They toured their home room by room. Everything they owned was thrown on the floor, a table or a bed. Their meticulous files had been dumped, the paper scattered. But the blood was the worst.

Exhausted, Cheye telephoned a friend and asked him to come over and help him scrub the blood off the floors. They had to do it for Trinity. It was after 1 a.m. when the two men stopped scrubbing.

Cheye dragged an air mattress into the living room so that he, Trinity and Georgia could huddle together through the night. Nobody slept. Somewhere out there was a drug dealer who might be thinking that they had his box of pot, and they couldn't lock their front door.

About 3:30 a.m., Cheye typed an e-mail on his Treo trying to explain why he wouldn't be coming to the office that morning.

"I'm on the Beltway," Cheye's boss, Rajiv Vinnakota, said, when he called at 7:30 the next morning and said he was on his way. "My only question is, 'Do I bring bagels?' "

Cheye earned his living working for SEED, a District-based educational foundation trying to expand its network of schools to several states. There was no way a drug raid on a mayor's house where police broke down the door and shot the family dogs wouldn't become news. Cheye's boss counseled him to get a lawyer, because innocent people go to jail all the time, and to be proactive about reaching out to the media.

Cheye felt confident that people who knew him and Trinity would know they'd never have anything to do with drugs. But what about everyone else?

As they talked, it dawned on Cheye that police hadn't just killed his dogs, terrorized his family and destroyed his once-happy, pretty home. They might just have ruined his life.

By mid-morning, Cheye had agreed to let a television reporter tour the house and had sent a mass e-mail to everyone he knew and the entire town of Berwyn Heights' mailing list.

"We try to make sense of it," Cheye wrote in the e-mail. "They invaded our home and killed our dogs! That above all else, can't be undone."

The Berwyn Heights annual employee-appreciation luncheon was scheduled for noon. Cheye went, feeling unsteady from lack of sleep and wondering if he were still in shock. He sat next to Murphy, who Cheye felt was acting cool toward him.

"I'm always highly suspicious because of all the things I've seen in 35 years in law enforcements," the chief later said. "Sometimes, I look at the priest in church, and I wonder what his thing is, which isn't all that healthy. But there's always a suspicion there. At the same time, I think I'm a pretty good judge of character."

Cheye, he concluded, couldn't have been the criminal the county detective had described on the phone.

As Cheye implemented his plan to let people know that they were innocent, Trinity labored to make their house minimally habitable. Her father -- Georgia's first husband -- flew in from Wyoming to help. One of the first things they did was throw away the blood-soaked dining room rug.

At bedtime, Trinity and Cheye stared at each other. Trinity had always gone upstairs first, leaving Cheye reading downstairs, Chase at his feet. Payton had always followed Trinity, crept onto Cheye's side on the bed, snoozed until he heard him coming, then jumped down guiltily. Now their hearts sank, not just at all they'd lost, but at how everything either of them said or did, anyplace they looked in the house, was a reminder.

They got into bed, but kept the lights on. Trinity was afraid now to sleep in the dark. After a few minutes, Cheye got up and turned off the fan. They wanted to be able to hear in case someone broke in again.


The first news reports on the raid at the Berwyn Heights mayor's house quoted spokesmen for the Prince George's police saying that the mayor and his family remained "persons of interest" in an ongoing drug-smuggling investigation. Police said they became aware of the box addressed to Trinity when a drug-sniffing dog had alerted them to it at a package hub, and authorities notified the county police. A police spokesman told reporters that Prince George's narcotics investigators had sought, and been granted, a "no-knock" warrant before searching Cheye and Trinity's house. Maryland law authorizes police to request a no-knock warrant, one intended to be served by force and unannounced, if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that evidence would be destroyed or officers' lives placed in danger if they knocked on a suspect's door and demanded entry.

Those same news reports quoted law enforcement officials around the region saying it was a known tactic of traffickers to ship a package containing drugs to an innocent stranger's home, planning to retrieve it before the recipient opened the box. In fact, law enforcement officials told reporters, recent incidents in College Park and Dunn Loring had been foiled when surprised innocents alerted police after opening the packages before the dealers could snatch them. Cheye was flabbergasted. Given that, how could the police who had broken down his front door with a battering ram, terrorized his family and killed his dogs not at least have considered the possibility, even the likelihood, that he might be innocent?

On Friday, Aug. 1 -- 71 hours after the raid -- the lead detective, Scarlata, returned to their home. He came alone. Cheye met him at the fence. The detective handed Cheye the warrant he had first asked to see while handcuffed in his living room. Scarlata also gave Cheye a list of what they'd confiscated in the raid. It consisted of a single item: the box police had brought there in the first place.

After the detective left, Cheye studied the document. There was nothing anywhere to indicate that Scarlata had asked the judge who signed it for permission to break his door down for a no-knock search. He hadn't presented the judge with evidence that anyone in the household was armed and dangerous. He'd basically said that police had intercepted a box of drugs addressed to Trinity, delivered the box and watched as it was taken inside."

"Police Chief Murphy was angry that Prince George's police hadn't given him the courtesy of notifying him before their raid, allowing him to help them execute their search warrant peacefully and avert tragedy. "I never imagined, when I set out to protect people from the crooks and the criminals, that I would have to protect them from my fellow police officers," Murphy told the crowd.

Cheye thanked the townspeople he'd served for five years as mayor. "Injustice in this county, in this country, in this world happens every day," he said. "But people who experience it most often don't have the support, don't have the community, don't have the resources that we do."


Cheye and Trinity flipped channels waiting for the 5 o'clock news, certain that -- finally -- they would be officially cleared. It was Wednesday, Aug. 7, more than a week after the raid. Then-Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High and Sheriff Michael Jackson held a joint news conference to announce the arrests of a FedEx deliveryman and a second man alleged to be involved in a scheme to smuggle marijuana by shipping packages addressed to unsuspecting recipients, including the one to Trinity. Police refused to release their names.

Yet neither High nor Jackson apologized to Cheye, Trinity and Georgia or declared their absolute innocence.

The mayor of Berwyn Heights and his family "most likely, they were innocent victims" of the drug traffickers' scheme, High said. "But we don't want to draw that definite conclusion at the moment." "

Washington Post - Deadly Force


While I am not ideologically in tune with the Cato Institute, here is an interesting report:

Cato Institute report, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America."


Picture Credit: MustKnowHow - Noisy window air conditioner


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