Indicted Cop Challenges Facebook's Privacy Rights
2/18/2010 3:58:00 AM,
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (CN) - A judge is weighing whether Facebook's right to privacy trumps a man's rights to discovery for his defense in a criminal trial.
At issue is a motion from the attorney for former St. Louis City police Officer Bryan Pour, who authorities say used his department-issued pistol to shoot Jeffrey Bladdick in a bar parking lot. The motion seeks disclosure from Facebook of 23 individual user profiles and the actions of a Facebook group called "Jeff Bladdick is a bulletproof badass" going back to the day before the Nov. 9, 2008 incident.
Madison County Associate Judge James Hackett said he needed more time after hearing arguments from both sides Wednesday.
Pour's attorney Albert Watkins said an anonymous tipster informed him of the group, which he believes included several officers involved in the investigation.
Watkins argued that his client's constitutional rights fall within exceptions of the 2000 Electronic Communications Privacy Act and said that law enforcement regularly accesses the same records for its own investigations.
Pour faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
"If law enforcement is entitled to those records, it seems inherently flawed to not allow a criminally accused person who's looking at 30 years in prison to the same information when it is clear that something was said," Watkins said.
Facebook attorney Karen Gossman argued that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act prohibits Facebook from cooperating with the subpoena.
Even if the social-networking giant complied, it would be overly burdened by having to search through its more than 350 million members to find 23 profiles, Gossman said.
Watkins disagreed, and told Judge Hackett it would take approximately 15 minutes to locate the profiles and another hour to access all of the information requested.
"This is not a fishing expedition," Watkins said.
Gossman refused to comment and directed reporters to a public relations manager for Facebook. Calls to that manager were not returned.
Pour is charged with aggravated battery with a firearm. Police say he got drunk, got into a fight with Bladdick and shot him in the chest.
Another off-duty St. Louis police officer, Christopher Hantak, was shot and wounded by a Pontoon Beach police officer who was called to the scene. Pour and Hantak were subsequently fired.
The grand jury that indicted Pour found that Hantak's shooting was justified.
Watkins claims that Pour acted in self-defense after he was attacked by two people in a Pontoon Beach bar parking lot. Watkins says Pour pulled the gun from the back of his waistband during the attack and fired, and mistakenly hit Bladdick.
Pontoon Beach is 15 miles northeast of St. Louis.
Watkins said he believes this case is the first of its kind. Neither attorney said they could find any rulings that set precedence.