AN INNOCENT man is suing Arizona police for $1.5 million after he was falsely arrested and held on murder charges, because Google’s GPS tracker wrongly placed him at the scene of the crime.
Jorge Molina, 23, from Arizona, was arrested at his job at Macy’s and spent six days in the high security Fourth Avenue Jail in December 2018 for the murder of Joseph Knight, 29, in March of that year, who was shot nine times outside his Avondale apartment.
Police had arrested Mr Molina based on location data obtained by Google and the fact that he owned a white Honda – the make of the vehicle that was spotted at the crime scene.
Police found no evidence of a weapon or casings in Mr Molina’s car, or home, nor did they find any evidence of a motive for Joseph Knight’s murder.
The case against him quickly fell apart, and Mr Molina was release from jail without charge six days later when prosecutors noted numerous inconsistencies with the location data that had tied him to the killing.
Charges were never pursued against Mr Molina, but the highly publicised arrest cost him his job, his car and his reputation.
He is now suing the local police department for arresting him based on faulty Google location data.
It has since been revealed that in the months leading up to Mr Molina’s arrest, police had struggled to make progress on the investigation, with only fuzzy surveillance camera footage showing a white Honda with an unreadable license plate at the scene of the crime.
Police then turned to Google in a bid to crack the case, issuing a warrant for geofence information on all the active accounts in the area at the time of the crime, according to a report from the Phoenix New Times.
Mr Molina also drove a white Honda, which in combination with the Google data, was enough to convince police that he was the likely suspect, leading to his wrongful arrest.
A year after the arrest, Mr Molina last month filed a $1.5million lawsuit against the city of Avondale and members of its police department over their faulty reliance on Google’s data.
He is suing for defamation, gross negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which he claims he experienced after the arrest.
Mr Molina says he has been able to find a new job, because the arrest causes him to fail background checks and news coverage prominently features in Google searches of his name.
Mr Molina was also forced to drop out of school, having missing too many classes of the accelerated college program he was enrolled in.
His lawsuit argues the data from Google should not have been used since Google allows multiple people to be simultaneously logged in to one account from multiple devices and locations.
The suit also argues that the data from Google couldn’t actually identify the owner of the device, nor the phone number or IP address associated with the device.
Most Read in US News
Mr Molina’s lawyers added police were aware that Mr Molina was not the sole driver of the Honda registered under his name, as his stepfather – a man with a history of violence and a warrant out in California – often drove it without his permission.
Phoenix New Times report that in March 2019, Mr Monila’s stepfather was arrested by Riverside County law enforcement in California in connection with both Joseph Knight’s murder and a 2016 murder in Indio, California.
To date, the Avondale police department has not apologized or admitted any wrongdoing in Mr Molina’s case.
WHAT IS A GEOFENCE WARRANT?
A geofence warrant is a type of warrant that police can issue to tech companies such as Google or Apple, demanding location data about their users.
The warrant specifies a physical location – a geofence – using GPS coordinates and a time period.
The tech companies then gather information about all the devices that were in the area at that time.
Law enforcement can then compare this data to other facts they have about a crime, which can be used to narrow down the devices to just a handful they think may belong to suspects.
The exact requirements for when and how a geofence warrant can be issued vary from state to state.
GOT a story? EMAIL email@example.com