He wouldn’t unlock his iPhone for cops after a traffic stop. A judge put him in jail

A Tampa resident has been jailed on contempt of court charges after claiming he forgot the passwords to his iPhones.
A Tampa resident has been jailed on contempt of court charges after claiming he forgot the passwords to his iPhones. MIAMI HERALD FILE

Tampa resident William Montanez insists he can’t remember his cop-requested iPhone passcodes. A Hillsbourough County court says Montanez can spend 179 days in a jail cell or until he finds his memory cells, whichever comes first.

Montanez has been in the Hillsborough County Jail since July 3. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of a firearm in commission of a felony, and misdemeanor marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession from a June 21 traffic stop.

Montanez posted $10,500 bond on June 22. The 25-year-old knows the Hillsborough County courthouse and jail well, being a veteran of three previous felony arrests and five arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Montanez owes $565 in fines from the misdemeanors, but prosecutors dropped the charges in each of the felony cases.

William Montanez fitted.jpeg
William Montanez Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

The relationship between Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies and Montanez continued on June 21 when they pulled him over for, officially, failure to stop merging from a driveway or business entrance.

A deputy materialized on the scene with a narcotics K9 named “Joker.” According to the arrest report, after Joker sniffed around and told his partners there was something other than sweet summer air, deputies searched the red Cadillac ATS. The report says they found smoked blunts, a baggie with marijuana, papers for rolling, some liquid THC, and a Glock 23 .40 caliber with 13 rounds.

Deputies also seized Montanez’s two iPhones. In the petition for indirect contempt-of-court charges, deputies said he was talking and texting on the phones throughout the stop (including getting a text that read “OMG did they find it,” after the traffic stop).

They got search warrants for the passcodes to the iPhones. Hillsborough County Judge Lawrence Lefler, in signing the warrant on June 22, cited a previous case that set the precedent “because the passcode combination was sought only for its content and would not require the owner acknowledge that the phone contained evidence of a crime, the passcode did not rise to the level of testimony within the protection of the Fifth Amendment.”

When deputies went to Montanez with warrants in hand, he conveniently got amnesia. The court ran out of patience on July 3.

The court instructions state, “If the defendant should suddenly remember the passcode, defendant should notify the HCSO and the passcode must be given and verified. Defendant can be released from custody once passcode is verified.”