71ºF

Cellphone data helps solves cases at UCF 'every time,' police say

Machine pulls deleted messages, pictures, app data from students' cellphones

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Almost every student at the University of Central Florida has a cellphone and every single phone offers up evidence to solve a case.

UCF Police Detective Melissa Guadagnino said the evidence on cellphones -- even if it isn't immediately visible -- plays a role in "every case."

"I'm telling you, every student has a cellphone so it helps us in every case," Guadagnino said. 

When a man was accused of taking video up the skirt of a young woman at a graduation ceremony, UCF police asked to see his phone but couldn't find any illicit pictures or video.

"One of the officers scrolled through the phone with consent to look for the videos," Guadagnino said. "At that point, they didn't see any videos."

A mother walking behind her daughter said she had seen the man record video and then delete it when she confronted him.

Guadagnino obtained a search warrant and hooked up the man's phone to a device she's been using for the past couple of years known as Cellebrite.

"It literally extracts the whole cellphone to be able to view what's on that cellphone," Guadagnino said. "From there, we pulled three or four videos of him recording up females' skirts in the arena, so it proved our case he was actually doing it." 

Guadagnino said the evidence led to a conviction for Jesse Wiggins and a sentence of five years of probation.

"(Cellebrite) has helped with sexual battery cases. It's helped with stalking cases, domestic violence. Any case you can think of, it's helped us with," Guadagnino said.

Guadagnino's full-time police technician, 25-year-old Tyler Resnick, who is also a UCF graduate student studying digital forensics, helps recover the deleted data.

"We can get pictures, deleted pictures, text messages, deleted text messages, even WhatsApp messages you've been sending between friends," Resnick said.

Guadagnino said the extraction technology has helped rape victims on campus.

"So, if they're, like 'I deleted that message because I was scared,' in some instances, we are able to get those deleted messages that victim had with the suspect and it helped our case," Guadagnino said. 

When UCF police got a tip and arrested Max Chambers, a 19-year-old sophomore accused of modifying his assault-style rifle into a fully automatic machine gun, Guadagnino said she discovered evidence on his cellphone using Cellebrite.

"He had multiple pictures and purchases of buying auto sears," Guadagnino said.

Auto sears are parts used to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one.

Guadagnino said Chambers was trespassed from campus.


About the Author: