A Minnesota man admitted Thursday that he hacked into state government databases in 2017 as an act of retaliation after the acquittal of an officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop.
Cameron Thomas Crowley, 20, apologized for his actions as he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of intentional access to a protected computer. As part of the plea agreement, four other counts against him will be dismissed.
Prosecutors and Crowley’s attorney agreed to a sentence of five years’ probation, but the count allows for a maximum penalty of one year in prison and his sentence will ultimately be up to a judge. The plea agreement also said the estimated amount of loss is between $40,000 and $90,000, but there was no agreement on how much Crowley will have to repay his victims. He will be sentenced July 17.
Crowley, of Lino Lakes, admitted he used the screen name “Vigilance” as he attacked government databases, including one that contained identifying information of hundreds of students and employees at an unnamed university. Crowley admitted he posted a link to that information onto a known hacking website, where it could be accessed by others.
He also admitted that he hacked into databases owned by the Minnesota government, a second university and an unnamed school district. Some of the information that was compromised in the various attacks included individuals’ names, home and work addresses, telephone numbers and password information.
“I would like to apologize publicly to the people who were affected by my actions,” Crowley told the court. “At the time, I thought what I was doing would draw attention to an injustice. But looking back, I realize that it hurt more people, and people who had nothing to do with the tragic death of Philando Castile.”
He went on to apologize to those whose information was compromised, and to those who had to “clean up the mess.” He also apologized to Castile’s family, saying, “I now realize that while my actions may have drawn more attention to Mr. Castile’s death, it does not honor his memory to do things that are harmful to others in his name.”
At the time of the breeches, a person tweeting as Vigilance said the Minnesota databases were targeted in retaliation for the acquittal of former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was found not guilty of manslaughter and other charges in Castile’s death.
Vigilance tweeted about the hacks and taunted authorities by writing, “Where am I? Clock is ticking.” In another tweet he wrote, “Sit back and watch the chaos unfold … More leaks coming for more injustices.” Vigilance also threatened to launch other attacks, and expressed confidence that he would not be caught by authorities.