Officers seized cell phone records in Hipps case, warrants show – Greenville News
A series of search warrants issued after the death of Clemson University student Tucker Hipps indicates law officers seized mobile phone records from several fraternity brothers, all of whom later were named in a civil lawsuit.
Days after Hipps’ Sept. 22 death, an agent with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division requested search warrants to search the phones of three Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers: Thomas King, Campbell Starr and Samuel Carney.
The warrants were obtained though Freedom of Information requests filed by The Greenville News.
Along with the university and fraternity, those students were named last month as defendants in a pair of $25 million civil lawsuits filed by the Hipps family, alleging the 19-year-old fell into Lake Hartwell and died after a confrontation during an early morning run.
Two days after that deadly fall, an Oconee County sheriff’s detective used a search warrant to obtain computer and phone records from the sophomore’s MacBook Pro laptop and his iPhone 5, indicating the information might be useful in the investigation.
By that time, Hipps’ electronics were already in the possession of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department, though a search warrant was needed to legally examine any data. What officers might have learned from emails, phone calls and other data is not specified.
On Sept. 26, an Oconee County investigator asked to search the incoming and outgoing calls of a T-Mobile mobile phone that were made between midnight and 1 p.m. on the day Hipps died. The number of that phone has been redacted and its owner is not clear.
At the beginning of October, a SLED agent obtained search warrants to seize all cell phone data from fraternity brothers King, Starr and Carney, to include calls, web history and images.
“It is believed that cellular communications, pertinent to this investigation, were used by members of the fraternity during the run,” according to the warrants.
Fraternity members communicated with one other using GroupMe, a text messaging app, according to another warrant, prompting a SLED agent to request subscriber information and text messages for several phone numbers from the company.
In late March, and just days before the Hipps family filed suit, another Oconee County detective requested that AT&T officials provide not only cell phone records belonging to King, but also the location of cellular towers used by his phone on Sept. 22 and 23.
In the search warrants, investigators described that phone as the “target phone.”
Officers also used search warrants to request and receive video surveillance from the entrance of Hipps’ Clemson apartment building to assist in establishing a timeline and verifying statements of witnesses.
On the day of Hipps’ death, Clemson University officials received an anonymous email alleging hazing was taking place inside another fraternity, Sigma Chi.
“On Sept 22, 2014, Clemson University received an anonymous email from an unknown subject who made allegations of hazing and assault and battery incidents involving Sigma Chi fraternity at Clemson University,” the warrants state.
That email was sent from a gmail address, and a SLED investigator requested information from both Google and AT&T to determine the identity of the sender.
While the documents, one executed in October and the other in November, do indicate that law officers obtained records, they do not specify if the author of the email was identified or what information that person might provide to the Hipps case.
The civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Hipps family alleges that at least one of the fraternity members knew Hipps had gone over the State 93 bridge railing.
The suit indicates Hipps had been told but failed to bring breakfast from McDonald’s, including 30 biscuit sandwiches.
King confronted Hipps on the bridge, according to the suit, and Hipps soon went over the railing. How he might have ended up in the shallow waters is unknown.
No charges have been filed and the case has been transferred to Dean Brown, the unsolved case investigator for the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department.