APD launches record reunification effort after stolen phones from ACL recovered

Hayden Baggett

The Austin Police Department is attempting to reunite more than 100 stolen phones with people that went to Austin City Limits Weekend One in 2018, according to a press release by APD.

The release said investigators with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office in Florida intercepted a package at the post office containing a number of phones last October. According to the release, an operation was conducted and resulted in the arrest and deportation of three Colombian nationals on charges of trafficking stolen property across state lines.

APD Sgt. Noel Guerin, who supervises South Austin’s property crime investigations, said he received dozens of reports of cell phone theft during ACL Weekend One.

Once the package was intercepted later that month, Guerin said the Florida officers linked a few of the devices to ACL attendees and contacted him before shipping the phones back to Austin.

The phones were placed on airplane mode or had their SIM cards removed to reduce the possibility of tracking the devices. Guerin declined to reveal what led investigators to find or open the package containing the phones in the first place.

The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

“We got officers to closely examine the phones and talk to people whose phones we had … so there’s a pretty safe assumption that all the phones that we have come from the first weekend,” Guerin said.

Guerin said this is the largest item reunification effort APD has undertaken. Close to 20 devices have been returned so far, Guerin said, and there are roughly 90 phones remaining.

“Everyone we talked to is just really impressed that we’re actually able to get their phones back,” Guerin said. “They’ve been very thankful. It’s been really cool, and it’s been unique to touch so many people’s lives in this kind of way.”

Biology freshman Kaitlyn Nguyen said she lost her phone at ACL Weekend Two and can see how festivals are an easy target for phone theft.

“Honestly, there were so many people just crowded together that if someone did pickpocket me, I would not have even noticed,” Nguyen said in an email. 

Brazil Maldonado, an English sophomore at Austin Community College, said she also lost her phone last year at ACL Weekend Two and suspects it was stolen.

“It’s something that we use every day, it’s really important and then it’s just gone,” Maldonado said. “Then you have a really slim chance of finding it at such a big event.”

Because of her experience, Maldonado said she can empathize with the people who lost their phones during Weekend One.

“I had to use an Android for like the next two weeks, and that is like the modern plague,” Maldonado said. “I lost all my info, all my pictures from the past two years, all my contacts, all this was just gone.”


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