Shortly after police in Largo, Florida shot and killed 30-year-old Linus Phillip, Jr., they entered the funeral home storing his body and tried to use his finger to unlock his iPhone.
To add insult to injury, Phillip’s family was in the Sylvan Abbey Funeral Home in Clearwater, Florida at the time detectives entered the premises and demanded to see the body so they could try to access his phone as part of an ongoing investigation, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“So they are allowed to pull him out of the refrigerator and use a dead man’s finger to get to his phone. It’s disgusting,” Phillip’s girlfriend, Victoria Armstrong, told local media. “I just felt so disrespected and violated.”
Police originally killed Phillip on March 23 — less than two weeks after his birthday — after pulling him over for having windows that were too heavily tinted. Upon closer inspection, one of the officers claimed he smelled marijuana, prompting officers to search the vehicle. However, Phillip gunned the engine in reverse, accelerated, and attempted to drive away from the scene, whereupon Officer Matt Steiner shot him four times.
While Phillip had marijuana, cocaine, crack, pills, and roughly $1,500 cash on his person when officers searched his vehicle, the family’s pro bono attorney told ABC News that ending his life was unnecessary.
“Did they really need to kill him to stop him? It makes no sense,” John Trevena said.
Officers said their attempt to unlock Phillip’s phone was part of the investigation into his death, as well as a separate investigation into the origin of the drugs that were found in his vehicle when he was killed. The police felt that obtaining a warrant for the fingerprint was unnecessary due to the dead having no expectation of privacy. However, a legal expert told the Tampa Bay Times that the search at the funeral home was on shaky footing.
“While the deceased person doesn’t have a vested interest in the remains of their body, the family sure does, so it really doesn’t pass the smell test,” Stetson University College of Law professor Charles Rose told the Times. “There’s a ghoulish component to it that’s troubling to most people.”
Rose added that because a dead person can’t legally own property, established legal precedent stating that police can’t do a warrantless search of someone’s cellphone doesn’t apply.
“This is one of those set of factors that walks on the edge of every issue.”
Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.