On October 23, 2014, Contra Costa, CA prosecutors held a meeting to discuss possible felony computer theft charges against 35-year-old California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Sean Harrington, who admitted accessing nude photos of a DUI suspect and covertly sending them from her cellphone to his own.
In additional court documents, obtained by San Jose Mercury News on October 24, 2014, Martinez confessed to stealing explicit photos from the cellphone of another Contra Costa County DUI suspect in August 2014. He forwarded those images to at least two CHP colleagues and called it a “game” among officers.
Harrington told investigators he had done the same thing to female arrestees a “half dozen times in the last several years.” He sent bikini shots of a 19-year-old female DUI crash victim to another CHP Officer, Robert Hazelwood, while the woman was at a hospital to have X-rays taken after the crash. Accompanying text message said: “Taken from the phone of my 10-15x while she’s in X-rays. Enjoy buddy!!!” Disappointed recipient texted: “No f—— nudes?”
Shortly thereafter, Harrington sent the same photos to another CHP officer, Dion Simmons. Simmons texted back “Nice” and “Hahahaaaa.” In response, Harrington asked that Simmons return a “favor down the road.”
These twisted “games” are indeed not new. For example, in 1993, Buffy Rice Donohue disappeared. On May 24, 1995, her bones were discovered in the mountains near Norwood, Colorado. The autopsy confirmed that she had been murdered. Local police not only botched an investigation into her case, but also seized nude photos, taken during Buffy’s honeymoon with her husband. Lieutenant Chinn of the Montrose Police Department kept them in an unlocked drawer in his desk and admitted to showing them to numerous other policemen.
Police Officer Steve Keep, whose office was near Lieutenant Chinn’s, testified that he once overheard Chinn and others in his office laughing. When he went in to see what was going on, he saw Buffy’s nude photos lying on Lieutenant Chinn’s desk. Another woman, Crystal Black, who worked at the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department, saw police officers holding up several nude photographs of Buffy, laughing and making crude comments about them, as well as making disparaging remarks about the deceased victim’s character. The courts have thrown out the lawsuit brought against the police by the victim’s family.
In 2008, Nathan Newhard was arrested in Culpeper, Virginia. Police seized the cell phone of his girlfriend, Jessie Casella, which she loaned to him. The phone contained nude photos of Ms. Casella in “sexually compromising positions.” Court records state that “Sergeant Matt Borders eventually gained possession of the phone … then announced over the Town of Culpeper radio system to several additional unnamed officers, county deputies, and members of the public “that the private pictures were available for their viewing and enjoyment” … several officers who were unassociated with Newhard’s arrest, as well as an acquaintance unassociated with the police department, traveled to police headquarters and viewed the pictures.”
After this incident was made public, Newhard lost his job as an elementary school teacher. Newhard and Casella brought a civil suit against law enforcement for the invasion of privacy, but the court dismissed the suit, finding that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in the photographs.
The problem lies not only with the so-called “game” of law enforcement officers, swapping nude photos of arrestees and victims (dead or alive). A bigger issue is the fact that accountability for such egregious violations of public trust is rarely dispensed by the courts or the authorities.
[UPDATE] Authorities say that Sean Harrington, former California Highway Patrol Officer, has been charged with two felonies.