Woman saved from attack after voice-activated device calls 911, authorities say

Posted at 8:20 PM, Jul 10, 2017

TIJERAS, N.M. – A man accused of beating his girlfriend and threatening to kill her was jailed after Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office in New Mexico said a voice-activated speaker device called 911.

The sheriff’s office initially called the device an Echo but later clarified that they couldn’t determine what exact device was involved.

Eduardo Barros was arrested July 2 after an hours-long standoff with a SWAT team at a home in Tijeras, near Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Deputy Felicia Romero.

Eduardo Barros

The couple was house sitting for the victim’s parents at the time, according to the arrest warrant affidavit and criminal complaint from the sheriff’s department.

The alleged assault began when Barros’ girlfriend received a text message. Barros accused the victim of cheating and “stated he was going to kill her if she called the cops,” the complaint said.

He asked her, “Did you call the sheriff?” the complaint said.

The complaint states that a voice-activated speaker in the room heard Barros say “call the sheriff” and the device called 911.

At one point 911 called the victim’s phone back.

It’s not clear how 911 operators knew to call the victim back on her cell phone.

“Barros saw the caller ID and threw (the victim) to the floor. Barros then kicked her while on the ground at least 10 times in the face and stomach,” the complaint said.

Romero first told CNN that the device that called authorities was an Echo device. CNN reached out to Amazon, the maker of the Echo, which uses voice commands to do everything from play music to order pizza, and a spokesperson said the device is not equipped to call 911 on command.

“Alexa calling and messaging operates via Wi-Fi between Echo devices or the Alexa app — it does not support PSTN (public switched telephone network) calling,” Rachel Hass told CNN. “This means, for example, a customer couldn’t complete a call to just any (number) in the US — the receiving end would also need to have an Echo device or the Alexa app connected to Wi-Fi or mobile data, and they would need to have Alexa calling/messaging set up.”

Romero later told CNN that the sheriff’s office can’t say with certainty what device called 911. She said all they know is that the 911 caller could be heard saying, “Alexa call 911.” One of the voice commands for the Amazon Echo is the word, “Alexa.”

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III, in a statement provided to CNN, praised the technology.

“The unexpected use of this new technology to contact emergency services has possibly helped save a life. This amazing technology definitely helped save a mother and her child from a very violent situation,” he said.

Camille Baca, a spokeswoman for the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, says Barros is facing 14 charges, including false imprisonment, aggravated battery against a household member and possession of a firearm by a felon. He is being held without bond.

Baca says Barros is being represented by a public defender. CNN has called the public defender’s office to seek a comment from the attorney representing him.

This isn’t the first time that a voice-activated digital assistant has been involved in a criminal case.

Earlier this year, a murder suspect in Arkansas handed over recordings from his Echo after prosecutors said the device contained evidence related to the case.

Editor’s note: This story and headline have been updated to include new details from the sheriff’s office and details from Amazon about the capabilities of the Echo voice-activated device.