” The case against Tadrae McKenzie looked like an easy win for prosecutors. He and two buddies robbed a small-time pot dealer of $130 worth of weed using BB guns. Under Florida law, that was robbery with a deadly weapon, with a sentence of at least four years in prison.
But before trial, his defense team detected investigators’ use of a secret surveillance tool, one that raises significant privacy concerns. In an unprecedented move, a state judge ordered the police to show the device —a cell-tower simulator sometimes called a StingRay — to the attorneys.
Rather than show the equipment, the state offered McKenzie a plea bargain.
Today, 20-year-old McKenzie is serving six months’ probation after pleading guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor. He got, as one civil liberties advocate said, the deal of the century. (The other two defendants also pleaded guilty and were sentenced to two years’ probation.)
McKenzie’s case is emblematic of the growing, but hidden, use by local law enforcement of a sophisticated surveillance technology borrowed from the national security world. It shows how a gag order imposed by the FBI — on grounds that discussing the device’s operation would compromise its effectiveness — has left judges, the public and criminal defendants in the dark on how the tool works.”