Technology gives police new tracks to followTwo cases currently going through Douglas County Circuit Court highlight the growing role technology plays in crime and investigations.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Two cases currently going through Douglas County Circuit Court highlight the growing role technology plays in crime and investigations.
Nathaniel Lee Mattson, 22, is accused of meeting a teen over the Internet and having sex with her. He is also accused of sending her a sexually explicit photo with his cell phone. Mattson, who faces felony charges of repeated sexual assault of a child and exposing a child to harmful material, waived his preliminary hearing Wednesday. An arraignment is scheduled for February.
With investigative work by Superior police detectives, cell phone texts between a Duluth woman and a Superior man played a role in netting charges against the pair for allegedly planning and carrying out an armed robbery that ended with the victim being shot. Quentin Jermaine Johnson, 35, of Superior faces one count felony armed robbery; Sage Nigitchigamikwe Ross, 19, of Duluth faces one count felony armed robbery as a party to a crime. A preliminary hearing for Johnson is set for Dec. 14. The preliminary hearing for Ross has been adjourned twice, according to court records. A status conference is set for January.
Technology is “certainly a conduit for bad things to happen,” said Superior Police Sgt. Nick Alexander, commander of the Lake Superior Forensic Technology and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. But it also “allows us to collect evidence we couldn’t have in the past.”
Even pressing the delete button doesn’t erase an e-mail, photo or text fully. It resides on the phone or computer that sent it, the device that receives it and the e-mail service it was sent through.
“They’re leaving tracks in a lot of places,” Alexander said. “We follow the tracks.”
He estimated the task force will process evidence for more than 100 cases this year, including more than 250 digital items, of which at least 150 will be cell phones.
Technology is finding its way into many crimes, from child pornography and sexting to domestic abuse and homicide cases.
“We’re seeing a significant percentage increase in just about every type of case our office is involved in,” Alexander said.
Many people feel they can remain anonymous online. But technological evidence can be very specific. With the current level of sophistication, Alexander said, “we can oftentimes say what was typed into a search bar” on a computer. Authorities can often pull GPS coordinates from pictures taken on cell phones to find out exactly where they were snapped.
Sexting — the exchange of nude or sexually suggestive images sent by cell phone between minors — is a growing trend in the Northland.
‘We’ve had well over one dozen cases this year where youth have taken what would be constituted as child porn and sent it to others,” Alexander said. He noted that once someone hits the send button, they lose control of that image or message.
“If you wouldn’t want your mom, grandma, school counselor to see it, you shouldn’t take it,” he said. And if you do take it, Alexander said, “certainly not sending it would be good advice.”
Not only is technology a path to evidence, it can also serve as a catalyst in some situations.
Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank said cell phones have become a battleground in many domestic abuse cases. Distrust may lead a suspect to grab for their partner’s phone to check texts or messages, which may lead to a battle over the device.
In some domestic abuse cases, Blank said, one of the reasons victims choose to continue contact with the suspect is because they share a cell phone account.
“Cell phones are starting to be a key issue,” the district attorney said, causing conflict and controversy.
The task force has processed dozens of phones for domestic-related cases to recover evidence of stalking, threats and harassment by text message, email and social networks. Many times that behavior can constitute violations of restraining orders and domestic injunctions.
“In this day and age, those types of orders apply to the cyber world just as they do the real world,” Alexander said.
Cell phones, many of which are almost mini-computers, serve as an example of the growing use of digital evidence.
In 2007, Alexander said, they processed one cell phone for evidence. This year, they have already processed more than 130.
Members of the task force are available to give presentations on internet safety. They have given more than 40 such presentations this year to nearly 5,000 people. Anyone interested in scheduling a safety presentation for children or adults can contact Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on internet safety, visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at www.ncmec.org.