JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A police raid on a home is one of the most dangerous law enforcement actions, with the potential to turn lethal for both officers and residents. So why did users on social media forum Reddit claim they were able to watch a raid live through an unsecured camera?
Earlier in the month, a post was made on the Jacksonville-specific Reddit forum titled "Unsecured police cam watching police raid @ wilson blvd."
The post, which has since been deleted, linked an IP address that took users to a camera fixed on what First Coast News has confirmed is a home at the center of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
"Its [sic] been an hour and the police is [sic] still here," one user commented under the post.
The same user later told On Your Side via direct message that they watched law enforcement at the home and suspects being detained.
An incident report from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office obtained by On Your Side notes a JSO officer responded to the home at 6039 Wilson Boulevard in the Cedar Hills Estates neighborhood the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 10 to assist DEA agents in executing a search warrant.
On the same day as the raid, homeowner Michael Antwan Easton, 42, was arrested in a separate location and booked into jail with a slew of drug-related charges, including trafficking fentanyl.
Easton is still in jail on "No Bond," and faces another court date in late March.
Following the raid, the Reddit post remained up and the camera active into the next day. Users who accessed the camera were able not only to watch it in real-time but could even take control of the camera itself.
"To have a live investigation posted on the web for the world to see, and not only to view but to actually manipulate the camera to capture whatever the viewer wants to capture, is particularly troubling," said Matthew Kachergus, a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney.
Kachergus said the camera resembles what's known as a "pole cam," commonly used by law enforcement, notably in drug investigations.
"Pole cams" can be mounted on utility poles, and agencies only need to coordinate with the utility company, bypassing the need for a court order since the camera is technically on public property.
"If they get material off the pole cam during their investigation of people [who] end up getting charged or indicted later, you may see some of that footage used in the trial against those folks," he said.
First Coast News reached out to law enforcement agencies and so far has not been able to confirm if the camera was in fact a "pole cam."
A spokesperson for JSO said the camera did not belong to the agency.
DEA representatives neither confirmed nor denied the camera was theirs, citing it is agency policy not to comment on investigative operations.
"As per DEA policy, we neither confirm nor deny any investigative and/or enforcement operations, nor do we provide information about our investigative techniques," a spokesperson said.
However, court documents from a December JSO traffic stop against Easton seem to confirm DEA was conducting surveillance even then.
After an officer pulled Easton over on Edgewater Dr., an unnamed DEA agent radioed the officer to let them know "he observed [Easton] enter the vehicle while carrying the backpack."
Nearly two months after that stop, the raid on Easton's home was viewed on social media.
"It's hard to think how one of these cameras could be set up and this was allowed to happen," Kachergus said. "We're in a digital age. How do you put up one of these things and not have some sort of control like that on the front end to keep the public from not only viewing this but actually allowing it to the public to manipulate the cameras?"
"Just quite frankly, it's a little insane," he said.
As First Coast News watched the following day, access to the camera was closed off and a username/password combination was required to re-enter.
Easton's attorney declined to comment for this story, and it remains to be seen how or if the incident could impact his client's case.