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Detective: Without Info From Google, 'We Were Toast'

Inside a 2017 case that involved a 'geofence warrant'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 30, 2020 3:18 PM CST
After Attack, Her Recollection of a Google Map Was Key
In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo a sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(Newser) – "Without that information from Google, we were toast." So says Milwaukee Detective Eric Draeger of what turned out to be a crucial clue in a June 16, 2017, attack. A health-care worker identified as MD was driving home from the hospital where she worked, exited the highway, and was attacked by a man who threw himself into her open window. He had a box cutter and hammer and forced her to drive to a pickup truck that was driven by an accomplice; he assaulted her then left her at the side of the road. And though she could give a few details about the men and their truck, Draeger says he didn't have much to go on—except one thing: MD's recollection that there was a Samsung Galaxy phone in the car that was running Google Maps as they drove past an airport. That led Draeger to seek a "geofence warrant" from a judge.

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In a lengthy piece for NBC News, Jon Schuppe notes that these warrants are controversial today for their potential to track people who just happened to be close to a crime scene, as in the case of a man suspected of burglary in Florida because he had simply biked past the house. But "Milwaukee authorities were not restricted by those concerns in June 2017," writes Schuppe, who tracked what happened next in MD's case, from a judge's quick signing of the warrant to Google's phone call to Draeger within 20 minutes of him emailing the warrant to them. Google worked with Draeger to refine the warrant so that they could base their search on a series of known locations, including the highway exit, the airport, and a Chicago bar where MD's credit card was used. By June 20, Google had narrowed their search to a single phone—belonging to Jose Arevalo-Viera. (Read the full story to learn what happened next.)

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