by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
“Cops used dead man’s finger in attempt to unlock his phone.”
It appeared above this story in the Tampa Bay Times:
Most people agree what the Largo detectives did at the funeral home was legal.
What they diverge on is whether it was appropriate.
“I just felt so disrespected and violated,” said Victoria Armstrong, whose fiance, Linus F. Phillip, was shot and killed by a Largo police officer last month.
Armstrong, 28, happened to be at Sylvan Abbey Funeral Home in Clearwater the day two detectives showed up with Phillip’s phone, she said. They were taken to Phillip’s corpse. Then, they tried to unlock the phone by holding the body’s hands up to the phone’s fingerprint sensor.
Lt. Randall Chaney said it was an unsuccessful attempt to access and preserve data on the phone to aid in the investigation into Phillip’s death and a separate inquiry into drugs that involved Phillip, 30. While Chaney said detectives didn’t think they’d need a warrant because there is no expectation of privacy after death — an opinion several legal experts affirmed — the actions didn’t sit right with Phillip’s family.
“While the deceased person doesn’t have a vested interest in the remains of their body, the family sure does, so it really doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Charles Rose, professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Advocacy at Stetson University College of Law. “There’s a ghoulish component to it that’s troubling to most people.”