Security testers arrested in Iowa sue sheriff

Two security researchers hired by the Iowa judiciary to check courthouse security sued the sheriff, who arrested them for attempted robbery, despite having permission from the state government to conduct testing.

Recall that in 2019, Gary DeMercurio and Justin Wynn joined the information security company Coalfire. According to a lawsuit filed on July 30, 2021, the company was awarded a contract at the time to “conduct cybersecurity testing, including physical penetration,” in five different buildings.

Demercurio and Wynn's responsibilities included "physical attacks," including picking locks with a lockpick at the Dallas County Courthouse on the evening of September 20, 2019. Therefore, when the researchers entered the building and the alarm went off, they immediately presented the sheriff's deputies who arrived at the scene with the appropriate permission from the Iowa government.

The sheriff's deputies even called the state judiciary and were satisfied with their response. However, when Sheriff Chad Leonard arrived, the situation changed dramatically, the statement said. The sheriff ignored the document he presented and ordered the aides to arrest Demercurio and Wynn. The researchers were handcuffed and their property seized. The men were detained for 20 hours, but then released on bail of $ 50,000. As a result, they were charged with burglary and possession of burglary tools.

Later, the charges were softened, and then dropped altogether. However, testers' attorney Marty Diaz explained to Insider that his clients didn't just spend one restless night behind bars. They became victims of violations of their civil rights and were humiliated, as a result of which they suffered moral damage and emotional stress.

As Diaz explained, two years after the arrest, his clients continue to feel the consequences. They lost their tempting job offers because when potential employers googled the names of Demercurio and Wynn, articles appeared about their arrest and photos in prison uniform.

According to the lawyer, Sheriff Leonard used the researchers as "scapegoats" in his "graters" with the state government. The sheriff's position was that since the building belongs to the county government, only the county government has the right to conduct testing, Diaz said. However, the courthouse is under the jurisdiction of the state of Iowa, which has the power to authorize such testing.

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