He’d been at the Millenia Mall in Orlando, Fla., for less than an hour when he allegedly zeroed in on the shopper with the bags from Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Now Derrick Maurice Herlong followed closely behind as the man he was planning to rob loaded his purchases into the trunk of a silver Lexus and drove toward downtown, police said.
At some point, the man stopped at a 7-Eleven. That’s when, according to a chain of events described in an arrest affidavit, Herlong and an accomplice took an extraordinary step to make sure they didn’t lose him: They attached a homemade tracking device - an iPhone rigged with magnets - to the bottom of the man’s car.
Minutes later, the pair cornered the man as he entered a gathering at a nearby apartment, robbing him at gunpoint, stealing his car and fatally shooting another man, 32-year-old Jacaris Rozier, according to police.
Orlando police documents released Thursday detail how investigators identified Herlong, 37, as the suspect in the Feb. 19 killing of Rozier. Herlong has pleaded not guilty to murder, home invasion, carjacking and grand theft, records show. His defense attorney declined to comment on the charges Friday.
The documents, first reported by Orlando’s News 6, also offer a window into the highly unusual method Herlong is said to have used to surveil his victim and are bound to raise some concerns for the privacy-conscious.
According to the arrest warrant, Herlong laid the groundwork for his alleged crimes weeks earlier at a Panda Express restaurant in another part of town. Investigators said he stole a purse and wallet from a worker there in late January, then used her identification to buy the iPhone at a Metro PCS store.
On Feb. 18, Herlong or someone associated with him activated the phone using an iCloud account in the restaurant worker’s name, according to the affidavit. Investigators said they confirmed the timeline using surveillance footage, receipts and interviews. They also said they found Herlong’s number in the device.
The following day, Herlong staked out the victim at the Millenia Mall, according to police, who said surveillance footage showed him with two accomplices, neither of whom was identified.
When homicide detectives canvassed the shooting scene in the city’s Thornton Park neighborhood, they found the victim’s Lexus nearby. As the vehicle was being loaded onto a tow truck, the truck’s driver noticed a small nylon bag hanging from the undercarriage, police said.
The affidavit described the contents: “Attached to the bag were two magnets. Inside the bag was an Apple IPhone set to ‘do not disturb’ and wrapped in a sealed Ziploc bag. The phone’s battery was close to or at full charge, indicating it had been placed there recently.”
Within a week, investigators linked the iPhone to Herlong, according to the affidavit.
The suspects “targeted [the victim] for a robbery due to his purchases of high end, expensive items,” police said in the affidavit. “They could be seen making overt efforts to follow [the victim] away from the mall as they tried to find a suitable location to commit the robbery.”
“In an additional effort to ensure they did not lose their quarry, the group used a new Apple IPhone, as an improvised vehicle tracker, placing it on vehicle at an opportune time,” police said. They added that only someone with access to the iCloud account created in the restaurant worker’s name would be able to track the phone.
A search of Herlong’s apartment in the city’s southwest turned up several bags and articles of clothing from Gucci and Louis Vuitton, along with a Metro PCS receipt bearing the restaurant worker’s name and boxes for the phone, according to police. They also found during a search of his Mercedes SUV an assault-style rifle that matched the description of the weapon used in the shooting, the affidavit says.
Officers also found more than a dozen cellphones on the property, including multiple Androids and prepaid Tracfones, records show.
Turning an iPhone into an improvised tracking device is relatively simple - a quick Google search turns up many tutorials on how to do it. It’s illegal to spy on a person with a GPS phone without their consent, but there are legitimate reasons for using the devices, such as tracking personal belongings.
Private investigators sometimes use prepaid phones and other devices to monitor suspected cheating spouses, operating in a legal gray area in which they try to skirt laws against nonconsensual GPS tracking. Domestic abusers also sometimes monitor their partners’ devices to keep track of their whereabouts.
But Bill Marczak, an expert in surveillance at the University of California at Berkeley, said he was unfamiliar with any cases involving a suspect using a cellphone to track a victim. It may not even be that efficient, he said.
“Haven’t heard of this modality of ‘planting a cell phone on someone’ being used by criminals before,” he said in an email. “I don’t immediately see why someone would prefer to plant an iPhone rather than a purpose-built GPS tracker (which would be cheaper, and have much longer battery life than the iPhone).”
Herlong’s next scheduled court appearance is a pretrial hearing on Oct. 26. He could face 25 years or more in prison if convicted on the second degree murder charge.