Enlarge / Oakland Police headquarters, as seen in 2012. (credit: Daniel Arauz)

OAKLAND, Calif.—A federal prosecutor seemed to trip up during a Wednesday court hearing in an attempted murder case. The reason? This prosecutor had to explain how cell-site simulators, sometimes known as stingrays, actually operate.

Joseph Alioto, the lead federal prosecutor, initially suggested that the suspect’s mobile phone company, MetroPCS, needed to somehow activate the Oakland Police Department’s stingray immediately following the January 21, 2013 shooting of a police officer. But that’s not how stingrays work—rather, they act as fake mobile phone towers and do not require any affirmative interaction on behalf of any phone company’s network.

Despite the mistake, the Wednesday hearing may prove to be a crucial one in the ongoing case of United States v. Ellis, where four men are charged with the 2013 attempted murder of local police officer Eric Karsseboom in a parking area near an East Oakland apartment complex. (One of those men, Damien McDaniel, pleaded guilty earlier this year.)

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