Police Tracked Cell Phone to Locate Robbery Suspect

by Staff on October 16, 2012

in Local

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At 8:03 a.m. Monday morning, a call came into the Mitchell Police Department (MPD) from 60’s Eastside gas station near the intersection of South 9th Street and Highway 60 East. It was a female employee reporting that the store had just been robbed at gunpoint.

The employee stated that the man left the scene heading east on Highway 60 in a blue truck with flames on it. There were several witnesses to the crime, she reported.

Less than three hours later, police had the suspect, 33-year-old Jerold Leatherman, Mitchell, in custody. But what happened in between the time the initial call came in and when Leatherman was apprehended?

Timeline of Events

8:03 a.m. MPD receives call alerting them to the robbery that just occurred. Chief Hardman is notified.

8:06 a.m. MPD notifies Lawrence County Police Department of robbery.

8:08 a.m. MPD notified Indiana State Police and Orange County Sheriff’s Department of robbery.

8:11 a.m. MPD Chief Hardman reports to dispatch that he had traveled to the Lawrence/Orange County line looking for the vehicle but did not find it. He turned around to head to the crime scene.

Note: In yesterday’s article, we referenced comments from witnesses who reported that it took police “what, 10-15 minutes to get there?”. It appears that the delay is due to MPD Chief Hardman attempting to locate the suspect’s vehicle before heading to the crime scene.

8:11 a.m. The employee at 60’s Eastside called back and reported that she had been told that the suspect was hiding behind trees behind the store and that he may not have been in the blue truck that left the scene. Chief Hardman told the dispatcher to contact an off-duty officer to provide assistance.

8:36 a.m. MPD Officer Matt England reported that he was now “on duty” and en route to the crime scene.

8:39 a.m. Officer England arrives at 60’s Eastside.

9:00 a.m. MPD Officer J.D. England reported that he was now “on duty”.

9:11 a.m. MPD ran a check on an Indiana license plate. Officers J.D. England and Matt England were notified of the registration details.

10:00 a.m. Officers J.D. England and Matt England reported that we en route to a location on Old State Road 37 (“Dixie Highway”) between Mitchell and Bedford as part of the investigation. However, instead of an address, they identified the location by its GPS coordinates, 38.80321, -86.50938.

10:40 a.m. Lawrence County Police reported that they had detained two subjects in the area.

10:50 a.m. Officers J.D. England and Matt England arrived at the location where the Lawrence County officers had detained the two subjects.

GPS Coordinates

At 10 a.m., the two Mitchell Police officers reported that they were heading to a location identified only by its latitude and longitude — but where did they get these coordinates?

“… we were tracking his cellphone.”

It is believed that officers knew the suspect’s identity early in the investigation and it is not unreasonable to assume that Leatherman had a mobile phone in his possession after the robbery took place.

Many cellular phone companies have a special “portal”, or web site, that law enforcement officials can log into in order to retrieve information about a customer’s mobile phone. Most of these cell phone companies retain this information for months and law enforcement can gain access to this information without you ever knowing — and often, without a warrant from a judge.

Mobile phone location information can be obtained in a number of ways. The cell phone company may use triangulation to pinpoint the location of a mobile phone, for example, or the phone itself may use its built-in GPS receiver to find its location and then report those coordinates to the cell phone company.

We sent an e-mail to MPD Chief Hardman asking if police used GPS to track Leatherman’s cell phone. Hardman stated that he didn’t think “his phone had a GPS” but confirmed that “we were tracking his cellphone.”

Note: The Federal Communications Commission, however, several years ago mandated that required cell phone carriers to be able to pinpoint a person’s location within 50-300 meters. That “phase II” requirement of Enhanced 911 went into effect in 2005.

Lawrence County officers later spotted Leatherman and another person in a vehicle — but not the blue truck used in the robbery — on Swifty Lane between Highway 37 and Dixie Highway, approximately one mile from the home identified by GPS coordinates.

Arrest and Questioning

After meeting up with the Lawrence County officers who had detained Leatherman, Officer J.D. England requested a wrecker to the location on Swifty Lane.

At 11:25 a.m. Officer J.D. England reported that he was transporting Leatherman to the Mitchell Police Department, presumably to be questioned.

They arrived at the police station at 11:34 a.m. with a Lawrence County officer arriving immediately afterwards. They remained at the police station for nearly an hour, until Officer J.D. England reported at 12:31 p.m. that he was taking Leatherman to the Lawrence County Security Center.

They arrived at the jail at 12:48 p.m. Officer J.D. England left the jail at 1:32 p.m. to return to Mitchell.

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