Recently revealed documents show that Snapchat played an unexpected role in the investigation of an apparent drug killing in Colorado in 2016. Devon Smeltz disappeared in August 2016, shortly after a surveillance video near his home in Fort Collins captured a riot night. Eight days after the incident, Smeltz's body was discovered in a rural county about an hour east of the city, initiating an investigation by Fort Collins police.
The main suspects of the disappearance were a group of five Cincinnati associates. Shortly after the disappearance of Smeltz, the group was stopped by Illinois highway police driving a white Mercedes sedan registered in Smeltz. A subsequent search of the car yielded a loaded firearm, traces of blood and 115 grams of cocaine. According to police interviews with friends, the group had traveled from Cincinnati to Fort Collins with approximately $ 60,000 in cash, destined to buy drugs. Smeltz's mother had separately heard that her son was preparing to meet "some people from Cincinnati."
The police could not find calls or text messages between Smeltz and the suspects, but in an audio recording taken from one of the suspect's phones, a voice refers to a "snap", which leads investigators to believe that the agreement was arranged on Snapchat.
It is unclear how much data Snapchat produced, but the company's retention policy may have prevented much of the relevant information from being disclosed. Snapchat's policy is to retain chats and user access records for only one month, in accordance with the company's law compliance guide. This court order was filed on November 8, 2016, more than two months after the police discovered Smeltz's body. Court records give no indication of a preservation order filed before that time. A subsequent submission indicates that Snap complied with the order, but the relevant chats and access logs may already have been destroyed if Smeltz did not actively save them before his death.
Snapchat declined to comment when The Verge contacted him. According to the company's most recent transparency report, it receives approximately 370 search orders per month and produces data for 86 percent of those requests.