No Peace

FBI Raids Suspect in Philando Castile Revenge Hack

After the police officer who killed Philando Castile was acquitted, a hacker swore he’d strike back. Last week, the feds went after the man believed to be that hacker.

Last week the authorities searched the home of a hacker suspected of launching a digital protest against police violence. That’s according to the man raided, the local FBI field office, and a document reviewed by The Daily Beast.

The man says he is being investigated for his potential role in hacking Minnesota government and education websites back in June. At the time of the breach, a hacker going by the moniker ‘Vigilance’ said the move was in response to a not-guilty verdict against police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who faced manslaughter charges for shooting black motorist Philando Castile. Authorities have not yet pressed any charges around the hack, and the raid comes around three months since the intrusion.

“They knocked, cleared the house with their guns,” the man suspected of being Vigilance told The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast is withholding the man’s name as he has not yet been charged with a crime.

He said officials from the FBI and the State of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) were present. The BCA seized a number of the man’s electronic devices, including a laptop, according to an evidence receipt the suspect shared with The Daily Beast.

In July 2016, officer Yandez shot and killed Castile during a traffic stop. Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, livestreamed the incident on Facebook Live. The incident sparked outrage and protests around the country.

The following June a jury found Yanez not guilty, and he resigned from the St. Anthony, Minnesota police department a month later.

Two days after the not-guilty verdict, Vigilance took to Twitter.

“Justice for #PhilandoCastile MN.gov and mnstate.edu Hacked,” the hacker tweeted. “An innocent man is dead, while a guilty man is free.” MN.gov is the main website for Minnesota, and mnstate.edu belongs to Minnesota State University.

The hacker posted stolen email addresses and other information online; the data is still accessible at the time of writing. Vigilance previously told The Star Tribune the hack involved over two dozen Minnesota databases. Minnesota State University reset user’s passwords in the wake of the breach.

“I thought I had to do something against what I found to be unjust,” the hacker told Motherboard at the time. “This was a failure of justice. And his family won’t get the satisfaction of knowing the one who killed Philando is rightly punished.”

FBI Special Agent E.K. Wilson, a spokesperson for the Minneapolis field office, confirmed the Bureau executed a search warrant in an ongoing, joint investigation with the BCA. The BCA did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday.

This wasn’t the only case of digital vigilantes acting in response to police officers killing black men. In 2014, after an officer killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, hackers claimed to have identified the man responsible. However, the wannabe doxers named the wrong person, authorities said at the time.

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A hacker was more successful in stealing data from the Baton Rouge police last year, in response to the killing of Alton Sterling. The hack itself, however, did not seem overly technical, and appears to have involved data sitting on a publicly exposed server.

“Stay tuned. Lots more in store,” Vigilance last tweeted in late August.