SAN DIEGO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance (“MoGo”), Brody McBride Law, law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C., and their client, Christina Griffin-Jones, announced a settlement with the City of San Diego in a federal lawsuit challenging the San Diego Police Department’s (SDPD) cell phone seizure practices, and their prolonged seizure of Griffin-Jones’ cell phone.
The federal lawsuit was filed after San Diego police officers seized Griffin-Jones’ cell phone when she was arrested during an anti-police violence demonstration on Sept. 23, 2020. Although she was released the following day, SDPD refused to return her phone for months.
Griffin-Jones was participating in the demonstration inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement calling attention to police officers’ use of deadly force against Black people across the nation, including the March 13, 2020, shooting and killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
Many of these incidents have been captured on video by people using their cell phones. The decision to seize and keep Griffin-Jones’ cell phone for so long was not an isolated case. SDPD officers have also seized phones from protesters at other protests.
As part of the settlement, the City of San Diego agreed to implement a new policy requiring officers to either seek and obtain a warrant to hold or search any phone they seize, or to return the phone within a reasonable amount of time. The new policy provides a series of protections for people whose phones are taken from them and requires compliance with the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“CalECPA”), which generally requires law enforcement to obtain warrants before accessing data on electronic devices or from online service providers, and other provisions of state law.
MoGo’s Staff Attorney Branden Sigua said the settlement will protect people’s privacy while they exercise their First Amendment right to demonstrate in San Diego.
“This settlement is not only a victory for privacy and protester rights in San Diego, but a long overdue revision of the city's policies in the age of smartphones,” Sigua said. “Given the broad range and extremely personal nature of the data available on an individual's phone, we are happy that there is an acknowledgement of the sanctity of these devices which are central to many people's lives."
Attorney Brody McBride also praised the settlement.
“Give the city and SDPD credit for adopting this new policy that was so badly needed here in San Diego. Now, they need to match their words with action through training and oversight to ensure their officers follow this important new policy,” McBride said.
Mintz Member Randy Jones, who led the firm’s pro bono team on this case, said the agreement will have a lasting impact.
“This is not only a great result for Christina, but it is a step in the right direction to having a fair and just policy protecting people’s personal property,” Jones said. “Right is right. And that’s been our motivation with this case, and every single social justice case that we take on. Mintz will do any part we can to use our skills as lawyers to make an impact on the community and we’ll keep fighting to make lasting change.”
ACLUF-SDIC Staff Attorney Jonathan Markovitz said the settlement has larger implications than just recovering one person’s cell phone.
“Cell phone video footage has brought global attention to racist police violence. These videos captured by courageous members of the public have sparked outrage on the issue and inspired millions to take to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Markovitz said. “This settlement is an important step in guarding people’s ability to protest and to hold police accountable for horrific human rights abuses.”
The settlement document is here: