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Legal, says court: Police seize phone, impersonate owner

A man who was arrested after a fake drug deal appealed to a Washington court that police acted illegally

By PoliceOne Staff

A Washington court ruled in favor of a detective who used a seized phone to pose as a drug dealer, arrange "deals" and make arrests, striking down an appeal by one of the people nabbed that the action was illegal.

Detective Kevin Sawyer was scrolling through the phone of a suspect who was arrested when he saw a text from a contact referencing a previous deal, so he responded and asked if "Z-Jon" needed more drugs, according to Forbes.

Z-Jon, or Jonathan Roden, said yes and over a few more texts agreed to meet his "drug dealer" outside a nearby grocery store. There, he was arrested and later convicted of attempted possession of heroin.

Roden argued to the Washington Court of Appeals that Sawyer violated the state Privacy Act, under which "private communication transmitted by telephone" cannot be intercepted or recorded.

The Court ruled that although the messages were not intended for the detective, Roden knew the device would receive and save them, thus no "reasonable expectation of privacy" existed because anyone could read them once they were stored.

One judge wrote in a dissent that the ruling was in contrary to the intent of the state's privacy act, which was written "to protect private communications regardless of how such communications were transmitted."

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