News Feature | January 3, 2017

Smart Water Meter Data Considered Evidence In Murder Case

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Smart water meter data was used as evidence in a recent murder investigation in Arkansas, and the case has privacy advocates sounding alarm bells.

“Court documents show investigators believe James Bates cleaned up the murder scene because of the amount of water he used in a two-hour window. Police said they got that data from the smart water meter at his home, which, according to the city utilities department, takes a measurement every hour of how much water is used,” 5 News Online reported.

“With every home in Bentonville, AK, hooked up to a smart meter that measures hourly electricity and water usage, police looked at the data and noticed Bates used an ‘excessive amount of water’ during the alleged drowning,” CNET reported.

The advocacy website Stop Smart Meters! has raised concerns about the methods used in the investigation.

“The arrest was based largely on smart water meter readings they obtained — without a warrant — from the City of Bentonville Water Department,” the website says. “The use of smart meter data by law enforcement to charge someone with murder is a stark example of where violations of privacy can mean the difference between a life of freedom and a life in prison.”

The website interviewed Bates about the use of smart meter data. He claimed the data was inaccurate:

In an exclusive interview with Stop Smart Meters!, Bates insisted on his innocence and said that his friend’s death was a tragedy, and must have been the result of combining a lot of liquor, a jacuzzi, and a late night. He told us that Collins was found by medical examiners to have had a .32 blood alcohol content when he died.

Bates also speculates that the smart meter data is not accurate and that the timing on the meter must have been off (possibly switched between AM/PM). He asserts that he can prove he used approximately that same amount of water to fill the hot tub earlier that day. He says it is notable that the smart meter data report obtained by the Bentonville police department does not reflect any large consumption of water used earlier that day.

A court filing requesting an arrest warrant for Bates describes exactly how smart meter data was used in the investigation:

On December 9, 2015, Detective Josh Woodhams and [Detective Corporal Jerrod Wiseman] met with Gary Wilson, the Billing and Collections Manager for the City of Bentonville Utilities Department, to determine if there was any water or electrical usage while James Bates stated he was in bed. Gary informed us that each residence in Bentonville was on a smart meter that electronically takes hourly measurement for the consumption of electricity and water. The data revealed that on November 22nd, 2015, between 0100-0300 hours, James Bates' residence used 140 gallons of water. More specifically, between 0100-0200 hours the residence used 50 gallons of water, and from 0200-0300 hours, an additional 90 gallons were used. In comparison, while all four were together earlier that evening, they never used more than 10 gallons of water in an hour. The amount of water used between 0100-0300 hours was consistent with spraying down the back patio area, which may have resulted in the wet concrete patterns observed on the morning of November 22nd. As previously mentioned, at least 140 gallons of water were used at James' residence in the two hour period between 0100-0300 hours. Upon reviewing all water usage information, since October 2013 at James' residence, this excessive amount of water usage between 0100 and 0300 hours had never before occurred.

For more on smart meters visit Water Online’s AMR, AMI And Metering Solutions Center.