Supreme Court nails GPS issue

Butte County law enforcement will have to change tracking policies

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this week that law-enforcement agencies cannot affix GPS monitors to citizens’ vehicles without a warrant is a good one that will have effects locally.

We know the Butte County Sheriff’s Office has used GPS devices in order to obtain search warrants because we’ve seen the search-warrant affidavits that explain their use. This is a violation of people’s privacy and, in the few cases we’ve seen, has added little to the investigation.

Consider the case of Dylan Tellesen, who was targeted during the investigation into eight local medical-marijuana dispensaries back in 2010. In most of those cases, officers did physical surveillance, meaning they sat outside the dispensaries and noted vehicles and people coming and going. In Tellesen’s case, however, they affixed a GPS tracker to his car and then retrieved it days later and noted his movements—to and from Redding and Butte College, but never to the dispensary, CPC, that they supposed he owned.

“The fact that a CPC employee stated the owner of CPC was in Redding, California and the fact that I independently obtained information that Dylan Tellesen’s vehicle was in Redding, California further shows that Dylan Tellesen is the owner of CPC,” reads the affidavit.

That, apparently, was enough for the Sheriff’s Office to obtain a search warrant for Tellesen’s home and person. He and his family underwent quite an ordeal, emotionally and financially, because of it, only to be found to have no connection to any of the dispensaries. (Tellesen was actually in Redding to paint a mural.)

We fully back the Supreme Court’s decision that the use of GPS devices without a warrant violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. We also agree with the minority opinion that constant monitoring for sustained periods of time surpasses a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

Undersheriff Kory Honea told the Chico Enterprise-Record earlier this week that he’ll be reviewing the Sheriff’s Office’s policy. Score one for civil liberties.