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Burglary suspect arrested after being identified with Google geofence data

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Christopher Alexander Brown, 41, has been arrested and charged with burglary and grand theft after an investigation that used Google geofence data to find out who was in the area at the time of the burglaries.

On February 2, 2022, the owner of Bigg Will’s Wheels at 2000 N. Main Street reported that his business had been burglarized sometime in the past month; he reported that multiple sets of wheels and tires were stolen, with a value of approximate $7,000.

A review of surveillance video from the business reportedly showed that at 8:19 p.m. on January 16, a red pickup truck parked next door to the business, and two men got out of the truck and entered the fenced-in area behind Bigg Will’s Wheels. The two men reportedly spent about an hour inside the fenced area, stealing 12 wheels with tires and loading them into the bed of the pickup. It was later determined that four more wheels and tires were stolen earlier in January. The license plate of the truck was also captured.

A Gainesville Police Department detective obtained a Google geofence warrant for the area surrounding the business, and the response from Google showed two devices in the area during the time frame when the two men were there; one device was determined to be in a passing vehicle, but the other one showed a trip from a home in southeast Gainesville to the business, and a license plate reader had captured the plate of the red pickup truck along the same route just before the burglary. The device arrived in the area of the business at 8:18 p.m. on January 16 and remained until it was last pinged at 8:40 p.m. A phone could be heard ringing on the surveillance video at that time.

Because the location of the phone appeared to match the movements of the burglars, the detective requested that the account be unmasked. The response indicated that the device belonged to “Rashard Joshua,” with a billing address in Reddick, FL. The detective found that a suspect named Reshard Joshua was stopped by police on March 22, 2022, in a Nissan Rogue that had a set of wheels matching one of the stolen wheel sets. License plate reader images show that the factory wheels on that vehicle were swapped for a new set on January 10, 2022. Joshua and Brown had also been arrested in 2018 for stealing a concrete saw from a fenced lot in a Gainesville business.

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Another warrant to Google for information stored on Joshua’s account was granted, and the response reportedly showed photos of Joshua, along with photos of his driver’s license and pictures from January of the stolen wheels and tires. A January 20 video showed Brown wiping a wheel that reportedly matched another set stolen from the business on January 16. Joshua can reportedly be seen in the video wearing shoes matching those seen in the video of the burglary. The video appeared to have been recorded in the Bailey Village apartment complex.

Location data from Joshua’s phone reportedly showed that on January 8, his phone was near Bigg WIll’s Wheels for about 20 minutes, then the phone went to the area of Bailey Village, then it returned to his home in Reddick.

On the morning of January 10, Joshua’s phone reportedly went from his home in Reddick to a wheel and tire shop in Gainesville, staying there about an hour. Those times reportedly correspond with the license plate reader photos that show the new wheels on Joshua’s truck.

On the evening of January 16, Joshua’s phone reportedly went to an address in southeast Gainesville at about 8 p.m., then traveled to Bigg Will’s Wheels; the phone was shut off at about 8:40 p.m. and was next picked up at 9:39 p.m. back at the address in southeast Gainesville. The phone then reportedly traveled to Joshua’s home in Reddick.

On April 25, the detective reported that he saw the red pickup truck in the back yard of a residence near the area in southeast Gainesville that Joshua had visited. He also reported that he saw one of the stolen wheels propped up against a tree in the front yard of the house. Data from Joshua’s phone reportedly showed that he had traveled to that residence and also to Brown’s residence on multiple occasions before and after the burglary.

Brown was interviewed in May, and he admitted post Miranda that he and Joshua had burglarized the business on two occasions. A sworn complaint was filed on May 25, charges were officially filed on July 7, and Brown was arrested on August 4.

Brown has been charged with two counts of burglary to an unoccupied structure and grand theft over $5,000. He has 11 felony convictions and has served four state prison sentences. He is being held on a combined $50,000 bail.

A warrant has been issued for Joshua’s arrest.

Articles about arrests are based on reports from law enforcement agencies. The charges listed are taken from the arrest report and/or court records and are only accusations. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. 

  • Good job by GPD detectives as usual. Let’s hope the perps will grow up, they’ve had plenty of time to. Meantime everybody else has to update their property security, with tax credits?

    • You are right about the need to update security. Criminals are out of control in Gainesville. I installed video cameras all over my property. I hate the constant ringing on my phone when someone drives by or walks by but they are necessary.

    • I think you’re on to something. I’d certainly buy a couple given the conditions we, the law-abiding people, face on a daily basis. Both with laser targeting and 50W phased plasma rifles mounted on their backs.

  • https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/geofence-warrants-help-police-find-suspects-using-google-ruling-could-n1291098

    March 7, 2022

    Authorities in Virginia violated the Constitution when they used Google location data to find people who were near the scene of a 2019 bank robbery, a federal judge ruled last week.

    The judge found that this policing tactic, which is widely used across the country, breached the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches by scooping up information on innocent people without evidence that they might be suspects.

    The decision, issued Thursday by Judge M. Hannah Lauck of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, could make it more difficult for police to use geofence warrants, which draw on tracking data collected by cellphones to find people who were close to a crime scene. The warrants have become popular among law enforcement officers in cases where they have run out of leads using traditional investigatory techniques. The warrants have been used to help solve all sorts of crimes, from burglaries and home invasions to murders and sexual assaults — and to identify people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021…

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