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  • Tim Krenchir

Attorneys clash over access to former Seaman High School teacher's cellphone contents

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

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Federal prosecutors and attorneys for former Seaman High School teacher and coach Jeffrey D. Pierce are clashing over whether the FBI would have been able to acquire the contents of Pierce's cellphones had he not given up their passcodes.

Pierce, who faces child pornography charges, says the FBI violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Toby Crouse scheduled a May 11 hearing in Topeka on a motion filed by defense attorney Christopher Joseph seeking to force the prosecution to share documentation regarding how it would have acquired those contents.

Authorities allege that Pierce, who taught ninth-grade social studies and was an assistant basketball coach at Seaman, posed as a teenage girl on various social media platforms to acquire explicit photos from teenagers.

Pierce was fired by the Seaman USD 345 Board of Education after the FBI arrested him in September.

Attorneys say defendant's Fourth Amendment rights were violated

Joseph contended in a motion to suppress evidence filed Feb. 1 that the FBI violated Pierce's Fourth Amendment rights by illegally forcing him to provide the passcode it used to unlock his cellphones.

FBI agents told Pierce the warrant required him to provide the passcodes when the warrant actually prohibited that, Joseph said.

Joseph contends all information authorities gained as a result of receiving access to Pierce's cellphones must be excluded from his trial, including the contents of those phones and the statements Pierce made as authorities searched those phones.

Prosecutors responded by contending in a document filed Feb. 26 that they would have inevitably gained access to the contents of Pierce's phone using a digital forensic tool called GrayKey.

Access to GrayKey is restricted to local, state and federal law enforcement, public safety and defense agencies in select countries, according to the motion Joseph filed March 12.

Pierce's attorneys have retained a certified computer forensics examiner, Michele Bush, who said she is skeptical about the prosecution's claims the FBI would have been able to access his cellphone's contents. A March 12 motion said Bush needs access to GrayKey to be able to assess and respond.

Motion says the prosecution isn't sharing information about GrayKey

The motion asked that the prosecution be required to provide the defense physical hardware, associated software, manuals and other specific documentation. The prosecution last month turned down a request that it provide the defense those things.

"The government cannot claim its forensic tool rendered useless the passcodes officers compelled from Pierce while simultaneously denying the defense the information necessary to evaluate its claim," the motion said.

Pierce faces federal charges of nine counts of production of child pornography and one count each of coercion and enticement, possession of a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and distribution of a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.


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