Protest in downtown San Diego
Protesters seek justice for Beonna Taylor in downtown San Diego. Photo by Enrique Morones

The city of San Diego will require its police officers to seek or obtain a warrant to hold or search seized cell phones, per a settlement announced Wednesday stemming from a lawsuit that alleged San Diego police seized a protester’s phone and refused to return it.

The federal lawsuit filed last year on behalf of Christina Griffin-Jones alleged San Diego police arrested her and seized her phone and other belongings during a Sept. 23, 2020, protest regarding the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

Griffin-Jones was released from custody the following day, but she alleged police refused to return her phone for several months afterward, according to the lawsuit filed against the city of San Diego and 25 unidentified San Diego police officers.

Her attorneys argued that the allegedly prolonged seizure of her phone, as well as the seizures of other protesters’ phones during the police protests in 2020, were unconstitutional. The attorneys also challenged police department policies regarding the seizures of cell phones, which they said differ from other types of property seizures due to the potential privacy implications.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, the city has agreed per the settlement to implement a new policy requiring officers to either seek or obtain a warrant for any seized phones, or return the phone within a reasonable amount of time.

Brody McBride, one of several attorneys representing Griffin-Jones in the case, said, “Give the city and SDPD credit for adopting this new policy that was so badly needed here in San Diego. Now, they need to match their words with action through training and oversight to ensure their officers follow this important new policy.”

The ACLU said the policy would also bring the police department in line with the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which requires that the individual or target of any investigation be provided a copy of any warrant to search for electronic data on the phone.

“This settlement is not only a victory for privacy and protester rights in San Diego, but a long overdue revision of the city’s policies in the age of smartphones,” said Branden Sigua, another of Griffin-Jones’ attorneys. “Given the broad range and extremely personal nature of the data available on an individual’s phone, we are happy that there is an acknowledgment of the sanctity of these devices which are central to many people’s lives.”

City News Service contributed to this article.



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Ellen Bullock