The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers - UPDATED

The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers - UPDATED

Summary: Questions loom about SF police and Apple's search of a man's home for an iPhone 5 prototype.


UPDATE 09/07/11: San Francisco Police have begun looking into what role officers played in a search by Apple for a missing unreleased iPhone. Police did, in fact, threaten Sergio Calderón that they would come back with a search warrant if he did not consent to a search, then instead allowed Apple employees to search his house. Lt. Troy Dangerfield, of the San Francisco Police Department, told CNET today that an internal investigation has begun into determining how officers assisted two Apple security employees in their search.


Conflicting statements from the SFPD started last Wednesday after CNet reported that Apple had lost an iPhone prototype in a San Francisco tequila bar - in July - and Apple had searched a man's home with local police officers.

San Francisco police responded to the news saying they had no knowledge of their involvement in a search of a local man's home for the lost phone.

Many then thought Apple employees had impersonated police - including even the police themselves.

But one day after the searched man contacted a local blog with his side of the story, the SFPD admitted assisting Apple in pointlessly searching the San Francisco resident's house, car - and his computer.

Were the San Francisco police no more than Apple's muscle?

CNet first revealed that according to a source close to the investigation, San Francisco police investigators working with Apple personnel traced the phone to the home of a man who said he didn't have it, nor did he know anything about it. The phone was not found.

This reminded everyone of the iPhone 4 prototype left in a Redwood City German beer bar and sold to Gizmodo last year. That time, Apple contacted San Mateo police and obtained a warrant within hours, and Gizmodo Editor Jason Chen (corrected) arrived home to find his property being searched and seized. Without him present, they took four computers and two servers. The items were returned when a judge found the warrant-backed search to be illegal and withdrew the warrant.

San Mateo might be in Apple's backyard, but here in San Francisco this time things went quite a bit differently - much less smoothly.

When CNet reported that the lost prototype had been traced to SF's sleepy Bernal Heights neighborhood, local blog SF Weekly got on the phone to ask the SFPD what was going on. SFPD spokesman Officer Albie Esparza told the Weekly that it wasn't true: no records existed of SFPD officers doing anything of the sort.

At the same time, the man whose house had been searched saw the article in SF Weekly and instantly recognized himself as the subject of the story - and finally had a lead on who had searched his house and threatened his family last July. SF Weekly reported,

"They threatened me," he said during an interview at his house. "We don't know anything about it, still, to this day."

Calderón said that at about 6 p.m. six people - four men and two women - wearing badges of some kind showed up at his door. "They said, 'Hey, Sergio, we're from the San Francisco Police Department.'" He said they asked him whether he had been at Cava 22 over the weekend (he had) and told him that they had traced a lost iPhone to his home using GPS.

At no point, he said, did any of the visitors say they were working on behalf of Apple or say they were looking for an iPhone 5 prototype.

Calderón, an American citizen who lives with multiple generations of family members, all of whom he said are staying in the U.S. legally, said one of the men also threatened his relatives about their immigration status. "One of the officers is like, 'Is everyone in this house an American citizen?' They said we were all going to get into trouble.'"

Anxious to cooperate, Calderón said, he let them search his car and house. He also gave them access to his computer, to see whether he had linked the phone to his hard drive or had information about it in his files. Failing to find the phone anywhere, he said one of the "officers" offered him $300 if he would return it.

The six strangers Calderón thought were police officers left a number for him to call if he had information about the lost phone.

SF Weekly called the number and discovered that it was the direct number for Apple employee Anthony "Tony" Colon, who refused to comment.

It was Friday morning. Upon presenting this news to the San Francisco Police Department spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield told SF Weekly that this would definitely need to be investigated, and Calderón needed to contact them directly. Dangerfield seemed alarmed by the news and said, "We take people representing themselves as police officers very seriously."

This led many people to speculate that Apple employees had impersonated San Francisco Police Officers.

It was at this time that Apple's Senior Investigator Anthony Colon - a retired San Jose Police Sergeant of 26 years - took down his LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Of course, every tech site reporting on the matter instantly grabbed copies of both pages from caches.

If you want to see it for yourself, here are SF Weekly's copies of Colon's Facebook page and his LinkedIn page (cache is still here). As an aside, the people Colon had endorsed on LinkedIn were former San Jose PD colleagues Michael Ross and Mikael Niehoff.

But by Friday afternoon SFPD's Lt. Troy Dangerfield then told SF Weekly a completely different story. The Weekly related,

Contradicting past statements that no records exist of police involvement in the search for the lost prototype, San Francisco Police Department spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield now tells SF Weekly that "three or four" SFPD officers accompanied two Apple security officials in an unusual search of a Bernal Heights man's home.

Dangerfield says that, after conferring with Apple and the captain of the Ingleside police station, he has learned that plainclothes SFPD officers went with private Apple detectives to the home of Sergio Calderón, a 22-year-old resident of Bernal Heights. According to Dangerfield, the officers "did not go inside the house," but stood outside while the Apple employees scoured Calderón's home, car, and computer files for any trace of the lost iPhone 5.

(...) "Apple came to us saying that they were looking for a lost item, and some plainclothes officers responded out to the house with them," Dangerfield said. "My understanding is that they stood outside." He added, "They just assisted Apple to the address."

Calderón had told the Weekly that he was under the impression all the people at his house were San Francisco police officers. Only two of the six strangers had searched his house, car and computer.

Calderón stated he would not have let them search his property if he thought they were not police.

By Saturday, the SFPD issued this statement and stopped talking to reporters about the incident.

Rotten Apples In The SFPD?

As a native San Franciscan, I can tell you that at the very least, Apple is getting a level of service out of my police department that is not typically offered to San Francisco residents.

The SFPD denied involvement citing a lack of reports and records, then admitted to assisting Apple. And as of now they have completely clammed up and are referring everyone to the written statement they issued.

Apple, also not commenting on any of it, now happens to now be hiring for two new Product Security Managers.

Think what you will about Apple. I'm a conflicted Apple fangirl. And now, I'm a conflicted SFPD supporter (my mother is the former President of the San Francisco Police Commission). To me, it's the SFPD that has a lot of fessing up to do.

Clearly, communication inside SFPD is broken. The inept way their media relations went down only served to reveal more than they expected; I think we're looking at a bungled case of CYA. Maybe someone forgot to tell their boss something until it hit the press?

So what really happened? Apparently Apple contacted the SFPD for help finding a lost prototype, and their Senior Investigator Anthony "Tony" Colon was the point man. I think that after working for the San Jose Police Department for 26 years, he must know how to really work with police, and as a number of San Jose officers now work for San Francisco PD, he may even see a few friendly faces when he visits us. How nice!

Because the San Francisco officers did not participate in the search, and Apple did not file a police report, there are no records that anyone could request, under say, the Sunshine Act or the Freedom Of Information Act. (Even if the officers were off duty, they would have been required to file a report if they'd performed the search.)

Here's one thing bothering this SF native: I really don't like the idea of my police officers playing private muscle for Apple Inc. Apple isn't part of the SF community other than three retail stores - WWDC aside, they left Macworld at the altar.

So since when does a company from Silicon Valley get to call up a police department in another city, tell them they think someone might have a piece of their property, and get a personal escort and badges to flash to go search a private residence?

To me, fingers need to be pointed at the SFPD. Their jobs are supposed to first and foremost be protecting SF citizens and upholding our rights. Not canoodling with Apple's security wonks.

If the police are going to do this sort of thing with Apple and not tell anyone, we need to be informed who gets this special treatment and who does not. And what the rules are around keeping the "special" businesses within laws and rights that protect the police's first customers: us.

I fear that in this new Apple scandal, my local police have used their presence to enhance grey areas in which corporations can operate just outside the law at the expense of our rights.

No wonder SF's Public Defender and candidate for Mayor Jeff Adachi is leading the charge against police corruption. There are just more questions than answers.

Photo by Ignacio Sagone under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Security, Smartphones

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

    Most of this seems like a tempest in a teapot, and on the side of the SFPD will probably result in stricter protocols before any officer responds to an issue in an official capacity.

    The part that actually intrigues me is the (supposed) line of questioning that resulted in one of these personnel asking about the immigration status of those in the house-hold. It would seem likely that for someone to have noticed the number of individuals in the house-hold along with their nationality, they would have had to already have been inside the house. If the only persons that entered the house were the Apple investigators then we might have a problem, as that would have had nothing to do with the issue at hand and could definitely be construed as an attempt to coerce the suspect through threats.
    • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

      @Playdrv4me I really agree with you about the immigration question - it is little details like this in the story that bring up more questions. To me, they are troubling questions. For instance, what did these guys do to "look at" the man's computer? I'd NEVER let anyone "look" at my computer.
      Violet Blue
    • RE:one of these personnel asking about the immigration status

      If it was an Apple employee,he/she was impersonating a cop.
      Does this make it illegal for a citizen to ask?
    • I have to disagree


      This is more than a tempest in a teapot. When the government uses its color of authority to gain access for a private entity, such as Apple, to enter a home (4th Amendment) without a warrant, that is significant. While ordinary the 4th Amendment would not be implicated by a private party unlawfully, trespassing and then committing burglary by accessing, copying or taking information without the owners permission or authority, when the police allow these people to act based on the the police department's authority, then it appears as though the searchers are agents of the police force.

      It is significant when the police force issues a false statement to the public. It is significant, when they permit these illegal entrants to the home to search beyond the scope necessary to recover "lost" property.

      Perhaps these things mean nothing to you, and you think that if the police gain entry into your home for friends or those who pay them that it fine for them to seach records, hard drives, and threaten people but in this country, that is not suppose to happen.
    • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

      @Playdrv4me I found that disturbing as well. What I also found disturbing was the implication that Apple investigators entered the home and participated in the search. Our legal system gives law enforcement officers the right to search property and person under certain circumstances as defined by law. Last I checked that did not include Joe Blow from Apple. If some corporate security drone shows up at my house uninvited, I don't care what the piece of paper carried by the cop with him says, he won't set foot in my house. Seems to me Apple should be more concerned about their policy regarding prototype devices in the wild and spend a little less time harassing citizens because their employees have all the responsibility of your average fourteen year old.
    • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

      @Playdrv4me <br><br>Worse than that - if they led the homeowner to believe that they themselves were police officers, Apple's employees may have committed a crime, and Apple may be held liable in civil court if Calderon pursues the case.<br><br>This is an expansive concept that applies to many ways of pretending to be a LEO that are less obvious than saying "I am a police officer". Arriving at a home with a number of police officers and failing to identify who is a police officer and who isn't before a search may qualify (although that depends on the law there, what exactly happened, and in what order).
      T.T. Thanos
  • There were ***no*** conflicting statements from SFPC: the initial was ...

    ... malicious tabloid gossip that was corrected by official police statement that the police assisted to Apple's investigators (which are former policemen themselves). And this all is according to 2000 IP-protection bill.

    So, really, no questions are left. No impersonation, the search was done with voluntary agreement from the owner of the house, everything according to the law.

    Next, please.
    • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers


      You are the most fanatic Apple Fanboy ever!!!
      • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

        @czorrilla He very well may be but at the same time the search was done under the consent of the homeowner...

        Having said that this whole thing concerns me greatly. Can someone tell me how [i]Apple[/i] investigators were allowed to perform their own search rather than the SFPD? Can someone tell me why SFPD officers were [i]outside[/i] the dwelling while Apple investigators were inside? I agree with VB - something is up with the SFPD.
      • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

        @czorrilla So many violations with would take to long to list. Keep in mind that the concent was given to look for an lost item to SFPD. It was a mis-informed concent which had the police proceeded with the search would have made anything found illegal as evidence. Police cannot search "INSIDE' of anything without a specific warrant stating exactly where and what. If the concent was give out of fear or intimidation it was illegal. Secondly NO Law enforcement agency is authorised to randomly take civilians on a search since it could invalidate it. For a civilian to go on a search takes special permission and to participate takes legal permission. SFPD was complicit in illegal activity. 4th ammendment protects you against the Police but not civilians UNLESS the civilian is associated with the police in which case this was a violation. Both the police and Apple are guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime here by facilitating a search by parties under false pretext. The apple reps are guildy if impersonating a Police for not clearly Identifying themselves as non police (a crime of omission minimum) or identifying themselfs as police. Being an ex-police does not give you search authority. The 2000-IP bill required the SFPD to file a report. They did not, that is concealment, collusion or obstuction.
      • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

        @Pete "athynz" Athens

        But if that consent was given because the citizen was led to believe they were duly appointed officers of the law .... That consent doesn't mean much.
    • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

      @DeRSSS We have three statements from the SFPD, all contradictory.

      I'm just asking the questions that any responsible citizen would ask. And there are many remaining.
      Violet Blue
      • And we're glad you're asking.

        @violetblue <br><br>Keep asking and don't let the ultra-fanboys shake you.<br><br>This isn't an Apple/PC thing - this is 'who are the police there for?' question and we should ALL be asking this whether we like or dislike Apple. If they did this for ANY computer company (or any company at all), this discussion should be happening.
      • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

        @violetblue <br><br>DeRSSS's post was nonsensical, so keep doing what you're doing (it doesn't matter whether or not they actually claimed aloud to be police officers, it doesn't matter whether they were "former police officers" themselves, and a search granted to a non-LEO operating falsely under color of law is not legal).
        T.T. Thanos
      • I have seen only one statement from SFPD -- which is about them assisting

        @violetblue: ... Apple's investigators. Two others were not statements, but alleged statements -- the media said that police told them something.

        But as far as I can see there was only one actual statement.
    • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

      @DeRSSS If they helped Apple, where is Apple's filed complaint about stolen property? I would not expect the Police to get out of bed, let alone accompany Apple employees, without an official theft report having been filed - and why didn't they get a subpoena to search the house, instead of bullying their way in - oh, wait, they couldn't, because nobody actually reported anything as stolen!

      It sounds like the SFPD is turning into a private police force, enforcing "justice" for those with the biggest wallet. Or at least, certain parts of the SFPD. I hope they can clear out the rotten wood.
      • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

        @wright_is It has nothing to do with the biggest wallet. The author of this piece hit the nail on the head in a way others have not: the Apple investigator was a retired officer, and the police department did all of this as a "professional courtesy" (euphemism for "looking out for one's own") in the same way police shields on cars get people out of speeding tickets, but worse. The retired officer also knew how to do things in such a way as to avoid a paper trail. All of the different statements are also about protecting their own from embarrassment.
    • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

      @DeRSSS I agree. If I went to Joe Blow's house and asked him if I could search it, and he consented to it, then I've broken no laws and he has no repercussions. No, I'm not a police officer, but consent is consent.<br><br>Who really cares anyway? Apple lost a phone (maybe, I still doubt it ever happened). Someone went looking for it. A man claims that they threatened his immigration status and that of the "several generations" of family members in the house. <br><br>If the phone was traced there and he was where the phone was supposedly lost and he consented to SOMEONE searching his property then no laws were broken. <br><br>Move along people. Nothing to see here...
      • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers


        The guy gave the police permission to search his place. At the same time the Apple employees were identified as police and had badges. If he had known that the Apple people were not police I seriously doubt they would have stepped foot in his place. The police or whoever was doing the threats and questioning were wrong. I think the guy has a legitimate lawsuit if he wants to persue it against the police and Apple. The permission was granted under false circumstances.
        Test Subject
      • RE: The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers

        Excuse me, but the comment about "more people...than there should be" is boorish if not bigotry. Do you know the size of the house? Do you know if they were living there or just visiting? I have my 80 year old inlaws living with me, and one child, that's 3 generations, and this is PERFECTLY fine.

        The Apple people did NOT get consent, legally. They fraudulently represented themselves, so by law, consent was not given.