Denver police’s reverse keyword search heads to Colorado Supreme Court


The Colorado Supreme Court will review the Denver Police Department’s controversial use of a Google search warrant that led officers to three teenagers in the 2020 arson of a Green Valley Ranch home that killed five family members.

A Denver District Court judge upheld the legality of the reverse-keyword search warrant late last year, but an attorney for Gavin Seymour, one of the teenagers charged in the case, said during a hearing Friday that oral arguments before the state’s highest court are scheduled for May.

The state Supreme Court decided earlier this month to review the ruling on Google search warrant, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization focused on digital privacy and rights, which filed an amicus brief in support of Seymour’s petition.

“This makes it the first state supreme court in the country to address the constitutionality of a keyword warrant,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also known as EFF, wrote on its website.

Seymour and another defendant, Kevin Bui, have been charged with first-degree murder and dozens of other counts in connection with the fire, which occurred on Aug. 5, 2020, in a home on Truckee Street. A third teenager, who was 15 at the time of the fire, is being prosecuted as a juvenile.

Five Senegalese family members were killed in the fire, including Djibril Diol, 29; Adja Diol, 23; Khadija Diol, 2; Hassan Diol, 25; and 6-month-old Hawa Baye.

The five members of the Diol ...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

The five members of the Diol family who died in an August 2020 arson fire at their Green Valley Ranch home are pictured at a news conference held by Denver police Chief Paul Pazen on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, announcing the arrest of three teenagers on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with the fire.

Prosecutors have alleged that Bui incorrectly thought the person who stole his phone lived in the Truckee Street home and wanted revenge. The teens bought masks to hide their faces and tossed gasoline inside the home before setting it on fire, law enforcement officials have alleged.

During the months-long police investigation, officers sought a reverse-keyword search warrant to serve on Google to help them find information on anyone who had looked up the address of the house during a 15-day period before the fire. The warrant led officers to Seymour, and then Bui and the third teenager.

Attorneys for Seymour and Bui, who were 16 at the time of the fire, previously challenged the legality of the search, arguing that the warrant was a “massive fishing expedition.” They have also sought to suppress the evidence from Google and from searches of the teenagers’ cellphones and social media accounts.

But Denver District Judge Martin Egelhoff denied their motion during a November hearing, saying that the search warrants were specific, narrow, supported by probable cause and procedurally sound. He also rejected the argument that the search violated people’s right to privacy.

“(We) believe the lower court made an excellent and detailed ruling, which we support and will be defending,” said Carolyn Tyler, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, on Friday.

Seymour’s petition calls the reverse-keyword search warrant “a digital dragnet of immense proportions” and asks the state Supreme Court to rule on whether it violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Colorado Consitution.


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