They then attempted to unlock it by holding the body's hands up to the fingerprint sensor.
Mr Phillip was killed when officers tried to arrest him on March 23 after smelling marijuana in his auto. He allegedly dragged one of their officers when he tried to drive off, however, Armstrong has argued that her fiancée did nothing wrong to warrant being killed. The move also triggered debate about using a corpse to unlock a phone. Police said they didn't believe a warrant was needed because there is no expectation of privacy after death.
Charles Rose, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, told the Tampa Bay Times that dead people can't assert their Fourth Amendment protections because you can't own property when you're dead. "There's a ghoulish component to it that's troubling to most people".
The model and brand of Phillip's phone was not disclosed, but it's possible that it could be an iPhone since Apple's smartphone is the most widely-adopted handset with fingerprint-unlocking technology.
Lt. Randall Chaney said the detectives were trying to access the phone as part of an investigation into Phillips' death and a drug investigation.
Militiamen gathered to unlock the gadget with a fingerprint of a dead African American. Such an issue regularly comes up ever since advanced biometric systems were introduced to smartphones.
Police officers in Florida reportedly used a dead man's finger in an attempt to access his smartphone, raising a handful of ethical questions.